When students at Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies returned to in-person instruction, they faced a tense situation in Elizabeth City. Students from nine different counties were gathering in a new school building — many interacting with each other for the first time — soon after the police killing of Andrew Brown, an unarmed Black man. In response to racist incidents, the school allowed students to lead the way, building a school culture around respect and inclusivity. This series includes five student perspectives and two perspectives from the guidance counselors in their own words.
Growing up in this city, there has always been division, but that division was never really discussed. Leaving things unspoken was like putting a Band-Aid on a wounded area — things become infected. The killing of Andrew Brown ripped the Band-Aid off leaving the infection open for everyone to see.
As a middle school counselor, I see that discrimination seems to be an issue in schools today. Over my years in education, I’ve heard students vocalize discriminatory thoughts and opinions on certain topics. I once had a student express how he didn’t feel the need to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Some of the issues today brought back memories of my high school years, when students held sit-ins to protest discrimination.
I went to school in Elizabeth City and I saw the discrimination. I remember African American History being offered in high school — but only offered after school. The saddest part: it was only offered for one year and then discontinued.
Until now, I worked outside of Elizabeth City. It allowed me to see how so many people are still walking around with blindfolds on. Invisibility has and still occurs to some in society and in the workplace.
Prior to taking this job, I was asked by several people why I would want to work here. Some in the community referenced “talk” of discrimination. My response: Why not?
I have the ability to work with all students no matter what the issue(s) may be. No, I am not “turning the other cheek.” There is work to be done. During my short time as an educator here, students have felt comfortable enough to discuss different negative and discriminatory incidents with me. Students also expressed to me a sense of not feeling included.
Then the incident occurred.
At first, I didn’t know too much about what happened during lunch that day. After seeing bits and pieces of parents posting on social media concerning racism at the school, I knew something major had happened.
After receiving an explanation of what happened, I was asked to work with the high school counselor to help form a group of students that could talk about what respect and inclusiveness looks like. I was excited to help.
Here you have a group of diverse students coming together to discuss sensitive topics that wouldn’t normally be discussed, talking about their experience here at school. Watching it brought me a sense of hope.
I believe students learn from other students. Knowing this idea came from a student and seeing these students present on respect and inclusiveness is a prime example. When a challenge comes from a student, it sets a different tone than when it comes from an adult.
In my years of experience in education, I’ve always told students that adults can learn from students. Although this presentation was shared with students, I believe this could benefit the adults as well.
Here at Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies, we have core values that set the tone where everyone is valued. We can agree to disagree but still have the ability to respect one another even in the differences.
I would like the younger generation to know their worth and feel valued regardless of what they look like. I want them to feel comfortable in their own skin. Most importantly, we need to keep talking. We can’t watch wounds become infected through silence. We must follow the students’ lead and talk about it. We need more people to be part of the solution.