It's 2017, 50 years after the riots in Detroit and racism is still alive and brewing, from Immigrant families living in fear of being deported to blatant discrimination of Jewish, Latino and African American people.
In 1967 some described what happened in Detroit as a race riot. Fast forward 50 years and it seems tolerance for people who are different is still not where it should be.
Who can forget the images of Detroit in the middle of an uprising during the 1967 riots.
Detroit was not alone, 124 cities saw their communities go up in flames.
Fast forward to today and many are questioning have we really moved past it, or is the same underlying racism and hate simmering once again.
Morgan Hogh says, "They're saying the n-word directly to me or they're saying it in the hallway, saying it, one boy told me black people are dumb directly to me."
Morgan Hogh is a 7th grader at Berkshire Middle School in Birmingham and her pain runs deep, at one point saying to her mom, 'I want my name to be Sarah, I want white parents, white hair, everything to be white.'
Kennedy Banks attends the same school. She says kids try to pass hurtful comments off as jokes.
Banks says, "When has my race or my ethnicity ever been a joke, you know. You've never been through the things that we have been through, you don't have to be afraid, so for you to say it's a joke, that's not okay."
Kennedy and Morgan say they have both reached out to teachers, counselors and administrators. They both say they are not helping at all.
This past week, a village president in northern Michigan refused to apologize for sharing Facebook posts denouncing Islam and calling for the killing of "every last Muslim."
The Reverend Wendell Anthony, President of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP, says racism never went away but it's now more blatant.
Anthony says, "We've looked at schools where children now are free in saying 'go back home', talking to their Latino brothers and sisters, or 'go back to Africa'."
And this newly found freedom to express hate is not just in the black community.
Nessa Feller says, "There were swastikas on a locker, on a desk and some other race hate language."
Nessa Feller lives in Birmingham. Her children attend Derby Middle School, where disturbing acts have surfaced as well.
Feller says, "The children have a lot of anxiety and we've heard students talking about they don't want to be Jewish anymore, they don't feel comfortable and they're worried if it's safe."
Heidi Budaj is Regional Director with the Anti Defamation League, and she gets daily calls about disturbing incidents compared to last year's 22 calls the whole year.
Budaj says, "If they're Asian, chinks go back to China, terrible things, if they're Jewish students, Jews go back to Auschwitz, or we're warming up the ovens for you."
Budaj says hate groups are exploding on the internet even on college campuses and she says they're harder to fight.
Budaj says, "Today you might find a hate group recruiting on a college campus dressed in suits and ties speaking very eloquently."
Jewish and Arab communities are doing workshops in schools to teach young people hateful behavior is wrong.
Budaj says, "We concentrate on the students we really feel we can bring about change in the hearts and minds and give them an alternative path. We can go in and change the entire atmosphere of an entire school when everyone who goes to that school, agrees to a resolution of respect. Not only can it really effect the students who have been previous targets of hatred, it can really make a difference to students who have been perpetrators of hate filled incidents."
The NAACP is also battling for groups it feels are under attack. They've protested against the travel ban on Muslims right along side the Arab civil rights league.
Wendell Anthony says, "We don't need to go back we need to go forward."
Morgan's mother is hoping this message resonates saying we have to be the voice for our kids and defend them.
Heidi Budaj says, "The answer is that every single person watching this has a responsibility to stand up to hate whereever it happens."
You can read the entire letter from Birmingham schools below:
A letter to the Birmingham Public Schools community:
In the Birmingham Public Schools we have the privilege of serving very fine young people. Most of our students are committed to excellence and demonstrate the values that we hold dear within our community. Their academic work and quality of character reflects a commitment to achievement and to engaging with mutual respect. Yet, over the course of this school year and again most recently, we have dealt with a very small group of students that have engaged in a variety of reprehensible and abhorrent racial, cultural and religious slurs. These behaviors sadden and anger me along with many others in our community.
These students may be trying to use inappropriate humor to fit in with their peers. They may be attention-seeking. They may simply be reflecting the malicious tone that is often seen and heard on the internet. Regardless, behaviors that slur and attack other individuals are not acceptable, not in the school system or in our society.
While these unseemly acts have been done by a very small number of students, they cannot be ignored. Students that engage in these behaviors will be held accountable for their actions. We will aggressively pursue disciplinary action reflective of current Board policies when these behaviors occur. In addition, we will continue to educate our students and staff regarding the value of community, the importance of mutual respect, and how differing perspectives can be addressed in civil ways.
Our children’s future demands that the community also engage in this work. Schools cannot do this alone. While demeaning and intolerable behaviors have begun to seemingly creep into daily life, we must commit to conversations about character and civility in the classroom, the coffee shop, in the car, and in our homes. We must discuss what we stand for and what we stand against.
Despite our district’s long-term commitment to diversity and character education, the results have not proven to be sufficient. We must aggressively pursue this topic on behalf of our kids and the families that we serve. At the same time, it is important that you know what we are doing in this area:
Our Strategic Plan calls for the implementation of culturally responsive teaching practices. This work is well underway and will continue with the goal that our teaching practices are more responsive to the cultural backgrounds of our students.
Our work with character education has been long standing. We will continue this work as a priority and ask each of our schools to revisit what they have done to date, and to make additional commitments to the eleven principles of character education as developed by character.org[character.org].
With any race, cultural and religious bias and harassment incidents, we will take a two-prong approach. We will investigate the alleged misconduct and engage discipline that reflects our policies. We will also use each of these incidents to further teach about diversity and how we can best deal with our differences.
On May 16, 2017 the Board of Education approved a Resolution that makes clear their commitment to the issues of diversity and equity. In that Resolution the Board spoke to their commitment to review all policies that touch on diversity and equity as well as their overall commitment to ensure that all of our students achieve to their best potential. A further commitment was made to be sure that our curriculum, instruction and assessment practices are culturally rich and diverse.
We will continue to nurture community partnerships with internal and external groups that help us work on diversity and equity. We will bring these groups together to support the ongoing work being done with our students and staff. We will also continue to hold forums to discuss these issues.
As adults, and role models for our students, we must discuss what it means to be respectful and accepting of others. We must model civil discourse and respect. As a district, we have high expectations for our students and our staff. Visit our website at www.birmingham.k12.mi.us/Diversitywork[birmingham.k12.mi.us] [birmingham.k12.mi.us]to learn more about:
The Diversity and Equity Resolution recently passed by the Board of Education on May 16, 2017. [birmingham.k12.mi.us]
Our Culturally Responsive Teaching practices. [birmingham.k12.mi.us]
Birmingham Public Schools Diversity Committee work. [birmingham.k12.mi.us]
Additionally, I welcome you to reach out to principals to learn more about what is being done at your neighborhood school to address these issues.
I also want to share my personal commitment:
I am deeply saddened and sorry about the very negative race, culture and religious based bias and harassment issues that have occurred in our district, and I accept responsibility for what has taken place. I remain steadfast in my commitment to educate our children and staff about how we can deal with differences, because they do exist, in right kind of ways. I am committed to our continued journey to implement culturally relevant teaching practices. I am committed to hiring a more diverse work force. I am committed to eliminating gaps in performance for some of our groups of students.
We must persist in standing against words of hatred and acts of intolerance; and, we must work together as a community to have the greatest impact. Please join me in this work.
Daniel A Nerad
Daniel A. Nerad, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools