The faces of concerned Heritage Junior-Senior High School parents dotted the crowd at Renaissance Baptist Church on Monday night amid others trying to find answers to racism at the school and in the community.
Local NAACP chapter President Michael Latham led the NAACP meeting, with 127 individuals present. One by one people stood - both black and white - and voiced ideas and frustrations about what has been going on at Heritage. Members of the school district administration and board also attended.
The NAACP became involved with the Heritage situation after the stepfather of a freshman at the school took a threatening and disparaging note to the organization, saying his stepson had found it in his locker Nov. 12. Another black student received an identical note.
The note read, “move them (racial epithet) North!!,” “2 bars 13 stars (expletive) (racial epithet) the South is ours!!” and “Hunting deer or hunting (racial epithet) were gotten (sic) drunk and pulling triggers!! ‘Welcome to Monroevile.(sic)'” It also displayed the Confederate flag and a reference to the Ku Klux Klan.
With the sanctuary nearly filled with many black community members and a few white, more parents came forward to tell stories of how their children had been victims of racism at Heritage. One unidentified parent even said this is not the first time black students had received notes of this nature at the school. Parents who spoke did not want to give their names to reporters.
Another parent said her daughter asked her if they could move out of the district because she was scared to go to school.
Lee Booker, whose stepson of a different last name received the note, said his stepson and son are also afraid to go to school.
“It breaks my heart when my sons come home and say, ‘Daddy, I'm scared to go to school,'” he said.
But ideas were shared to combat the problem .
East Allen County Schools board President Stephen Terry offered the idea of using the district's Web site, www.eacs.k12.in.us, as a medium to voice concerns.
A Fort Wayne Community Schools board member agreed it was a good idea and said more districts should institute it.
“I don't think this is just an East Allen problem,” FWCS board Vice President Mark GiaQuinta said. “I don't know if we have (anything in place to address racism) in Fort Wayne Community Schools, and if we don't, we should.” GiaQuinta is a lifetime member of the NAACP.
A parent said the school should hold a student assembly to say that racism will not be tolerated; another parent suggested using smaller groups to discuss the issue. African/African-American Historical Museum curator Hana Stith said black history education needs to be taken into the school.
“Black history exists for not only one month but for 12 months,” said Stith, who had been an educator for 36 years. She was referring to February being designated as Black History Month.
Many just said something should be done immediately.
Many questions were directed at EACS district members who were present, including Terry, Superintendent Kay Novotny and Heritage Principal Chris Hissong, asking what solutions the district has derived to combat this problem.
District administrators planned to have a news conference at 10 a.m. today to address those questions. The administration is also planning to present its ideas at the next NAACP meeting at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at Renaissance Baptist Church, 5515 S. Hanna St.
“We're making sure that we're not putting a Band-Aid on a long-term issue,” Terry said.
Other community members also felt racism needed to be dealt with not only at Heritage, but in the entire community.
“Our concern was (the note) didn't say, ‘Welcome to Heritage.' It said ‘Welcome to Monroeville,'” said Kent Castleman, executive director of Cornerstone Youth Center, 123 Meyer Drive, Monroeville. The center has diversity programs in place and has been working with the school over the five years it has been in existence.
Booker, who brought the original complaint to the NAACP, said he hopes that if plans are made, they are carried out.
“We just want to move past this,” he said about himself and his family.