Community Leader Says Desert Vista Incident Is “A Teachable Moment” for Everyone
You must have been living under a rock if you have not yet heard about the six girls at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix who posed for a photograph on their Senior Day in January with the word N-I-*-*-E-R spelled out on their shirts. Needless to say, the girls’ deplorable decision has been the subject of much controversy in the Phoenix area and throughout the nation. Some people are calling for a harsh suspension and others are calling for them to be expelled.
To date, the Tempe Union High School District has not disclosed the girls’ disciplinary actions per district policy. However, district officials hosted a meeting this week (closed to the public) with community leaders, students and parents to discuss their concerns.
One such community leader who was at the table for the Tempe Union High School District meeting is Lovelle McMichael, a member of the East Valley NAACP and chair of the Youth Committee, and Vice President of the Phoenix Alumni Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
McMichael shared his perspectives on the controversy after the aforementioned meeting.
McMichael’s Desert Vista Letter to the Editor
As disheartening and tragic as this occurrence has been, I personally believe we can use this as a teachable moment for the school, district, state, and world on how racism is still present in our homes, community, work places, and society.
As a member of the East Valley NAACP and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., I represent one of the voices in the fight for social justice in our community. I also have conducted research and have worked with youth of color. I am very aware in this moment that there are several moving pieces to what is happening but we must address what has happened and then provide ongoing support to the students, school, district, and state regarding how to address the concerns this incident has brought to the surface.
In my discussions with the principal (Dr. Christine Barela), superintendent (Dr. Kenneth R. Baca), and assistant superintendent (Dr. Anna Battle), I am aware that they recognize the need for discipline for the girls. It is also important that this discipline is adequate and fair. After discipline has been finalized, it is important to support the students during the healing process of the occurrence, and the school as it recovers from the aftermath and the district as officials implement new culturally competent practices.
I recently released a book, Transforming the Minds of Men: Maximizing Potential from Childhood to Manhood. The purpose of the book is to raise the awareness of the disproportionate treatment of young black men in schools as it relates to suspension, expulsion, and discipline. I also raise awareness about the cradle to prison pipeline. I offer tools and strategies for how our community and those who work with our community can address these issues directly and indirectly. We must use opportunities that this event has brought to the surface to further advance the push for equitable treatment of students of color in public education settings. This book has been written as a resource for teachers, community workers, administrators, and anyone working with youth of color.
Instead of using this event as a way to divide and conquer, we must come together as a community and sit at the table where decisions are being made in order to implement ongoing change. This will help us ensure that the future of our schools has supports in place for cultural diversity training and intentional practices that promote diversity in schools.
The students have started a campaign entitled, “Spread the Word to end the “N” Word!”
I believe this slogan allows for self-reflection on how we as a community have become comfortable with the use of the word. From the inside of our community out it is time to demand self-respect and respect from those looking on us so they do not use our own actions as a way to further disenfranchise our community.
Tempe Union High School District Governing Board Meeting
The next Tempe Union High School District Governing Board meeting will be held on February 3 starting at 7 PM. The meeting is expected to draw a strong showing from Valley residents.
All meetings are open to the public and are held in the Benedict Education Center Board Room, 500 W. Guadalupe Rd. Tempe, AZ 85283.
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