After receiving complaints by members of the Lake Highlands community, “Black Lives Matter” signs at a memorial to victims of racist violence have been removed by Richardson ISD officials. Photos, flowers and other signs have been allowed to remain. RISD granted permission to Lake Highlands Area Moms Against Racism to create the memorial earlier this month, providing the display was “of educational value.”
Since the July 2 creation of the “Say Their Names” exhibit, with hundreds of photos and names including Emmitt Till, George Floyd, Martin Luther King and Lake Highlands High School alum Atatiana Jefferson, neighbors have been drawn to view it with their children. Observers have been seen seeking information about the victims on their phones and leaving flowers in their memory.
“I absolutely support raising awareness about racism in our school district and our community so we can work together towards solutions,” Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone wrote in a statement to Advocate Monday, “and am comfortable that my words and my actions have backed that up. So when I was approached by a group of Lake Highlands moms seeking permission to create an educational memorial on Lake Highlands HS property over the summer, remembering and honoring Black Americans who died as a result of racism, I instantly agreed, and still support that now. As RISD’s leader, I believe it’s important for our students, staff and community to see that we recognize that racism is part of our history, still exists today, and we want to take steps systemically to end it. I asked that the memorial would be educational, and not political or in some way divisive, and our parents agreed.
“After being up for several days, signs promoting the Black Lives Matter movement were added to the memorial, and at that point other members of the community began expressing strong concern about the memorial as something that was divisive and not appropriate for our public school property. Because I did not and do not want the Say Their Names memorial to become something that causes division within our community, I had to ask that the signs be removed from the memorial.
“I am committed to continuing to work with Lake Highlands Moms Against Racism and the other parents, students, alumni, and employees who have shared their experiences with racism and asked for change within RISD. Adopting and beginning implementation of RISD’s first policy on equity, diversity and inclusion last year was a necessary initial step, but much more can and will be done as we move forward systemically to address and end racism in our district. In the meantime, it is my hope that the summer memorial project can serve to prompt respectful conversations, spark curiosity among students, and bring our community closer together through education and understanding.”
The display is expected to remain on the fence outside Wildcat Stadium throughout the month of July.
Earlier this summer, Stone also met with current and former students, who presented a list of demands to dismantle systemic racism in the district, create policies to close achievement gaps and make RISD schools more welcoming for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) students. Her work with these students continues, and she appeared on NBC 5 Monday to discuss the topic with 2020 graduates Priscilla Beltran and Osadolor Osawemwenze, who shared racist encounters with teachers and students.
“It was a painful couple of hours to hear of these experiences. So many times these things are happening in classrooms, hallways, locker rooms and cafeterias,” Stone told NBC 5’s Deborah Ferguson. “One of the things [they] told me is that these things have become very normalized.”
“We’re in the top ten most diverse school districts in the state of Texas,” continued Stone. “There has to be an awareness and a movement for us to really start to embrace and really love and appreciate what that diversity means. These young adults coming forward to talk about these things really did wake up something in my heart and in our school district. Racism in our society – we all know that it exists, but has it been talked about before? It’s part of our history, but for behaviors that the kids described going on as acceptable, it really put a spotlight on why that word ‘demand’ had to be used.”
You can view the full discussion on fighting racism in RISD on NBC 5 here.