A week after Charlottesville City Schools closed as a result of online threats to African-American and Hispanic students and the arrest of a 17 year old who is now facing felony and misdemeanor charges, Charlottesville High School’s Black Student Union led a walkout to support racial justice and equity. Participants urged city schools to address racism in many forms and presented a list of demands as solutions.
“It’s not about the threat,” said Zyahna Bryant, BSU’s founder and chair. “It’s about the everyday racism we experience in Charlottesville City Schools.”
Ahead of the march at noon Monday, Bryant stood alongside other BSU members to read off the list, which included requests that African-American history be promoted to a required course, rather than an elective. There was also a call to hire more African-American teachers, especially for high school students.
“We don’t just need more elementary school black teachers, we need more black teachers that are going to prepare us for college,” Bryant said. “We need more black teachers who are teaching rigorous courses.”
The group also requested racial bias and cultural sensitivity training for school resource officers, a higher standard for Black History Month programming, extended resources to black and brown first-generation college students and that all students be tested for Quest, the school system’s gifted program.
“Not just their first grade or second grade,” Bryant said. “Test them every year, and if they’re not where they should be, prepare them to be there for next year.”
Another demand was the application of mental health practices that are culturally relevant and racially aware.
The BSU also called for discipline reform through the development of a diverse governing board to oversee “equitable and effective discipline.”
Lastly, the students requested the implementation of a locked door and buzzer system to increase school security. Bryant said that this demand was added in the wake of last week’s threat.
“There’s not enough safety for students of color and any one of the students or staff on site,” Bryant said.
“At CHS, Buford and Walker, we don’t have that. So, anybody could just walk into the school and anything could happen,” said BSU member Trinity Hughes. “We’re trying to have something in place so people can’t just walk into the school.”
According to Charlottesville City Schools, previously scheduled work on improved door security, including installing buzz-in intercom systems, begins at Walker Upper Elementary, Buford Middle and Charlottesville High schools this week. The work will take some time, and a spokesperson says they anticipate the systems will be operational by summer.
Nearly 200 people assembled at McIntire Park before marching towards the U.S. 250 Bypass, where some drivers honked in support of the students’ chants and signs. In addition to the Black Student Union, the Latinx Student Union participated, as well.
The crowd of students and supporters lingered for about an hour as they chanted and held up their signs. One of the largest signs read “confront white supremacy.”
“A lot of people are just not comfortable to come out and say that there’s racism in school, so this is helping voices amplify,” Hughes said.
In the hours after the event, Charlottesville City Schools’ Twitter account tweeted in response to the students’ demands.
“We’re glad to hear you and work with you,” the tweet read.
“Especially in light of last week’s racist threat directed at our African-American and and Latinx students, it’s only natural that our Black Student Union leaders would raise their voices. We are heartened to see that our students’ ideas are very much in keeping with our ongoing and current efforts, which in turn have been informed by broad input from students, staff, parents and community members,” Superintendent Rosa Atkins said.
“It’s nice to see everybody at Charlottesville coming out in support of black and brown lives because I feel like that’s really important,” Hughes said. “It shows the School Board. It shows Charlottesville and people around the country that black and brown lives matter.”
The students’ walkout comes just a few months shy of the 60-year anniversary of the Charlottesville Twelve integrating schools in the city.
“Today was powerful in so many ways,” Bryant said. “While we are breaking down barriers of physical space, there are still many underlying systems working together to keep black and brown people oppressed. We hope that the walkout serves as a reminder of our city’s illusion of progress. While we have come so far, it is evident that we have so far left to go.”