By Dallas Watson
“The Black Kids”
We walk the halls with our heads
With the latest fashions,
And the hottest music.
We scream and yell and say
“When will it stop?”
“When will things change?”
The Black kids are a group of
People that move culture,
That set trends,
That are activists,
And stand up for injustice.
We Pass the open classrooms wondering
Does our life matter?
After 2020, we were met with activism
And allyship only to be left
With little change and a tired slogan.
I wondered what more could be done.
Our school stood against racism,
But there was no real change, not even
A discussion took place after the verdict.
Once, we came back I questioned how could
We all continue without the slightest chatter
Of George Floyd, the protests, the beatings, or the countless
Black men and women who were murdered.
This year so much has taken place, and as the seniors leave
I wonder will “The Black kids” still deal with
Students calling them the n-word
Or saying that they look like monkeys. Will they
Deal with the microaggressions?
“The Black kids” walk these halls
And question what can be done
To change a system that was not created to protect them.
Walking into Belleville West at the start of my junior year, I was disappointed that no one spoke up about George Floyd or the verdict. I felt like this tragedy shocked the world, and in my interactions, no one said a word about it. Everything had been turned upside down from one man’s cries and police killings. Folks of all races and gender identities flooded the street protesting and advocating for Black people, but were gunned down and smeared with tear gas. It was being talked about on almost all media platforms, but in my interactions, no one at school brought up the revolutionary change that was happening in the streets.
As a Black woman, it was like my existence was being erased, and there was no place to be real and talk about what was happening in America. I was expecting a discussion or some type of conversation but instead, I came back and it seemed like the entire trial and killing never happened.
Two years later, not much has changed. The administration, at times, fails to address acts of racism while promoting a slogan that, as of now, does not seem to be true. Just last month, a student wrote, “Black Lives Don’t Matter” publicly on a classroom’s wall. The student was addressed but no further consequence took place. The administration felt that students should not know about the incident, and asked the instructor to not bring any attention to it. However, there were multiple restorative circles where students spoke on the impact of seeing that written in a school that is supposed to be inclusive and diverse.
As a Black woman, I recognize my privilege. I haven’t dealt with overt racism until reading “Black Lives Don’t Matter.” Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of microaggressions, and side-eye looks from white folks, but I have not been subject to someone calling me the n-word or saying a racial slur to me. When seeing that slogan, my body reacted with a feeling of nausea and queasiness. My first instinct was “this was a joke, right? Did someone intend to do this?” For others, their reaction was anger, frustration that someone had the boldness or the “good-gawd” to be out here in these streets being racist.
I was frustrated that the school didn’t reprimand or suspend the student. Even if it was a joke taken out of context, some things can’t be said. I can’t undo seeing “Black Lives Don’t Matter” scribbled out because a kid wanted to be funny. I can’t change that I’m Black- which I happen to love. I can’t change that the admin, in a time where an example could be made, chose to brush it under the rug in hopes no one would notice.
Through research, I’ve found that because of Senate Bill 100, which was passed in 2015, public schools in Illinois can not create a zero-tolerance policy or a clear-cut way for racism to be handled. As found by the Illinois Education Association, “SB 100 eliminates “zero-tolerance” policies and provides that the harshest forms of punishment may only be used for students who pose a threat to the school community or who substantially disrupt, impede or interfere with the learning environment. The elimination of “zero-tolerance” policies ensures students can no longer be automatically expelled or suspended for particular behaviors.”
To break it down, the board can’t explicitly write down or put in their handbooks that if you say the n-word you’ll be expelled or if you publicly commit an overtly racist act you’ll be suspended. The only exception is when a student is harming the school or is a danger to other people.
The crazy thing is that SB100 was created to stop the inequality of BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) being suspended at higher rates than white students. According to the Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, a group of Chicago high school students advocated that there was a bias in how Black students were being suspended for days on in for minor infractions. Though the SB100 is supposed to help Black students, right now it is enabling the administration to be vague in how they deal with racism.
SB100 has allowed for the administration to decide case by case what happens to someone when they are racist to other students. There are no checks and balances on who is getting in trouble and what will be done to them. Every single person has a bias, including me, so people are being allowed to get away with racism because there’s no procedure.
To break it down even further, an incident that also happened last month involved a student being suspended for two days because they posted on social media about a group chat whose purpose was to “Kill All Niglets.” The students posted about it and told students that they had the discretion to handle it how they saw fit. So yes, they were inciting violence but weren’t the members of the group chat also inciting violence? Nothing happened to the folks in that chat, but the person who spoke out about the racist act was told not to come back for two days. Do we see the problem here? Because of the lack of procedure, students who speak out get reprimanded while the perpetrators get to continue to cause damage.
I have a short time left at Belleville West. My four years have been amazing, challenging, and influential to who I am. I wouldn’t change anything, and I can proudly say that I am a Belleville West graduate. However, I can’t leave here knowing that I didn’t at least try to make real change.
Though a policy can not be made, we can create a procedure or a code of ethics that outlines the protocols for racist acts. As of now, the admiration does not have a clear way on who needs to be contacted. As reported by the Cincinnati Public Schools, they created a code of ethics that directly outlined what the procedure would be for racism. They said, “The purpose of this policy is to create processes that identify any form of racism, work to counter its effects, and work to eliminate racist practices and policies from the District in conjunction with related Board policies.”
Though a policy can not be created because of SB 100, the board can create a procedure where there is a protocol when one of their students is facing discrimination. I propose that when racism affects students, there should be a protocol such as first having the students write down what happened, then contacting parents/guardians, and next having a board that comes together to determine a just and fair consequence for the perpetrator. Then finally, having an Assistant Principal be contacted and the Director of Diversity and Inclusion be included in the decision. This way, on both sides all parties could obtain a fair consequence for what was done. As of now, these incidents are being left up to the admin, and are not just or equitable to all students. This is not the only way to create an equitable process, but it is a starting point to make change at Belleville West.
There also needs to be a system or log of when and who is committing a racist act. This would need to be confidential for the school and student, but if someone is continually being racist, then they need to be reprimanded accordingly.
As I leave this school, I can’t leave knowing that this will continue to happen to other Black students. Amanda Gorman, one of my idols, in the Hill We Climb said, “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.” I challenge the faculty and administration to listen to their students, work to create policies that alter and change the way racism and discrimination show up at Belleville West, and mean exactly what they say. It’s cute to have a slogan, but at the end of the day, the administrators and staff have to actively promote and stop this from continuing to happen.
By Peter Brennan-Fleming
The pile only gets bigger
It only gets uglier
And everyone knows that the pile is getting worse.
There’s only one thing done,
Nothing is done
These people revel in the slaps on the wrist, the second chances
While the pile gets bigger.
Why is nothing done?
It’s fear for change, for action, for consequence
All the slogans and walkouts don’t change the pile,
They just leave it be.
We can change that pile.
We can finally take all the dust out from beneath the carpet,
And have real change,
It will be scary.
It will be hard.
But this place will be better from it.
The pile will topple down one piece at a time.
From it, we will have a place that respects everyone,
Not just some lives.
I remember when that slogan was put up. I was one of the people that helped spread awareness and talked to faculty and administration asking for their support. It was over the summer and most of my friends were writing an address to the faculty. Many students, in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, wanted Belleville West to show their support. That is where “West Stands Against Racism” comes from.
I supported the project so much because I had friends who were harassed based on the color of their skin, and I was ready to support them in any way I could. I had hoped that with the sign being changed that change within the school would happen. When West approved the slogan my hope that the school would start taking action grew. Shirts were starting to be made, and talk started happening among students at school, but the change so many students were working towards with the administration never happened.
The lack of communication throughout the process shocked me. Looking back now, I realize just how much I was expecting from the sign-changing. People across the nation were in uproar over the murder of George Floyd and for months, nothing was done. Though states had started cracking down on their officers, the change at Belleville West and across America has been painfully slow. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 7 states have mandated the use of body cameras on their officers.
The lack of change comes from the fear of it, especially on the subject of race. People, (particularly white), have a deathly fear of talking about it. As a white man, I know this fear. The reason for this fear stems from the worry that they may say the wrong thing, or feel blamed for the systems in place that only benefit them. However, silence on this subject only deepens the problem. We see it every day, but the most obvious is what directly impacts us.
The latest incident is where a student defaced a mural in a classroom saying, “Black Lives Don’t Matter”. The person in question was seen by multiple people writing the message, has been given multiple chances to correct their wrong, and to learn from this. In spite of these facts, the person has been cleared from any sort of repercussion. They even make jokes about how no consequences will befall them. This person knows what they are doing. They know they did wrong but aren’t in trouble from the lack of action from administrators. To say the least, this is not how a school that stands against racism would handle this incident.
That raises the question of what should be done. Rather than focus on this specific incident, let’s broaden the scope. What needs to be done is to implement a code of ethics in the school. Presently, there is just not enough documentation on racism in the school for there to be much action. Racism needs to be defined, detailed, and documented for this kind of thing to not happen again.
A great example of this behavior is the Cincinnati School Board anti-racism policy. What does this policy do for the school board? It defines in multiple ways what racism can be, establishes communication with the community on racism, and holds the school administration and faculty accountable. A very interesting decision also includes the addition of a new anti-racist curriculum.
This curriculum would include diversity in staff, clubs, and extracurricular activities. Classes can be made that explore different cultures of African peoples and focus more on the history of Black people in the US. Students would also be able to change/voice their opinions directly to the administration. I feel that’s a very important part of this. Student input should be a VITAL part of this because these policies affect us the most. That is the whole point of these policies is to protect students. Policies like these though are non-existent at Belleville West, and that is a problem. Right now, the administration has deemed that writing “Black Lives Don’t Matter” is acceptable behavior. Something that directly impedes on the safety of students is no longer a concern to the administration.
That’s the thing though. To the administration this is no longer a problem. I know though that this is still fresh in our minds. We are still angry about what happened. I want this issue to be nonexistent in the future.
That’s why I am doing this. As a senior, I don’t have much time left at this school. That doesn’t mean I hate it. In fact, I love it. I have met so many wonderful people here. People that deserve better than what is being done right now. It infuriates me to no end because I have the expectation that everyone should be treated equally, ESPECIALLY by the school. Right now there is a rift between how people seem to see consequences at Belleville West. To put it briefly, students of color have a harsher punishment at a much faster rate than if a white kid were to commit a similar offense. Elsie Reed from the Loyola School of Education, showed that students of color were typically punished 2-6 times more than their white peers in 2016-2017. During that year however, 17 different school districts were shown that students of color were ten or more times likely to face suspension.
At the end of the day racism not only affects the people being targeted, it also affects everyone else. People often don’t realize how damaging the mantra of “it doesn’t affect me” is. With letting behavior like racism slide, it can become very dangerous, very quickly. This is a school. This is a place where everyone should feel safe. If someone feels unsafe, there should be action to ensure that person’s safety, rather than ignore the problem in its entirety.
What I want the administration to do is to not only hold themselves accountable, but their students as well. Actions against racism need to be swift, especially against incidents like this. Prolonged action allows for more students to feel targeted by hatred. Also I feel that there isn’t a great line of communication from the school, to its community. Making information like school board meetings a part of the student bulletin would be a substantial change. That way, the information is open to students and parents alike. I don’t want this to happen again and I believe in this school to make some necessary changes.
Being transparent about what is being done to solve problems at West would bring a lot of ease to the minds in the community. Even saying on the announcements when and where students can participate in these meetings. Encouraging them to go is the most important part of this. The only way we can solve issues like this is by talking to each other.