Aledo residents Monday night told stories of racism, demanded change from the school board and spoke out against two recent racist events in the city during the public comment portion of an Aledo school board meeting.
Last week, Aledo made national headlines due to a “slave trade” that a group of students created on social media where they pretended to bid on their Black peers. On Sunday and Monday, flyers were found strewn about the city advertising a “Slave Auction.”
Chris Johnson told a room overflowing with people at the Aledo ISD Administration Building about how he and his friend were named in the social media group as their peers from Daniel Ninth Grade Center pretended to bid on them. He and the other boy were “overloaded with rumors and speculation” at school, he said.
“If you think this has affected you and your job, imagine how we actually feel,” said Chris, a ninth-grader at the school.
Aledo’s school board members and superintendent have not apologized to him or his family for what happened, he said. His mother, Mioshi Johnson, also demanded change from the board.
“The only apology I will accept is changed behavior,” Chris said.
At the beginning of the school meeting at 6 p.m., Superintendent Susan Bohn apologized for the “racial harassment that occurred” and said she was deeply troubled by the racist flyers found around the city. She and other trustees spoke to about 100 people gathered in the room and at least 50 more who watched a livestream of the meeting in the lobby.
The district has identified several initial steps to address the incident and move forward, Bohn said. Those steps include reinforcing the proper response and consequences for the use of racial slurs and racial harassment, and forming a working group that will speak to and listen to diverse staff and community members “to understand how we can focus on these issues as a community and in our schools,” she said.
The district is also working on an opportunity for parent training about racism and social media use by children, she said.
But many speakers questioned the board’s dedication to change, saying past complaints about racism were ignored. Chris said what happened to him and his friend was “because you didn’t listen to those who are affected the most.”
Others criticized the district’s handling of the incident, noting that the initial letter to parents did not refer to the “slave trade” situation as “racism” or “racist.” The district’s letter used the terms “cyberbullying and harassment” in the April 5 letter to describe the otherwise unspecified incident.
Former Aledo students said they saw or experienced racism when they attended school, and nothing was done.
Emily Cogdill, 27, saw blatant racism when she moved to Aledo in second grade, she said. She said it’s been 21 years, but nothing has changed.
“Aledo has made national news with this public display of hatred,” she said. “So the veil — excuse me, the hood — has been lifted.”
Sophia Bush graduated from Aledo in 2014. She said what happened a few weeks ago was not an isolated incident, and racism in Aledo is “deeply rooted and passed down.”
Parents of Black children in Aledo talked about their experiences with racism.
Munatsi Manyande and his family moved to the United States about five years ago from Zimbabwe. Since the “slave trade” on social media made national news, some of his family members have asked if his family, including three young children, should move away from Aledo.
“I love this community, but something has got to be done,” he said.
Maria, who asked to be identified only by her first name, said her two children have many stories about racism in Aledo.
As an example, she described a Halloween night when her 8-year-old was playing cops and robbers with friends. A group of kids tackled her son and held him down on the pavement. He told them he could not breathe. One of the white children told another to “put your knee on his neck.”
Real estate agent Roseanne Hauk said people from across the country tell her they want to move to Aledo because of its whiteness. People have told her they want to be in a neighborhood “without too many Black people,” she said.
Aledo, which has a population of about 4,181, is 81% white, according to census data. The percentage of Black people in Aledo is listed as 0.3%.
Tamara Lawrence is the mother of the second boy who was targeted in the “slave trade.” She did not speak at Monday’s event, but she has addressed the school board about racism before, according to meeting minutes posted online.
In 2016, a racial slur was written on the inside of a stall in the intermediate school’s boys bathroom, along with a number of other graphic words and images, according to a statement from the district at the time. Lawrence told the district changes needed to be made, according to a Weatherford Democrat story about the meeting in June 2017.
In response, in May 2017, the district’s School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) presented a Cultural Inclusiveness Plan to the school board, the Weatherford Democrat reported at the time.
In February 2018, the plan was accepted after various versions were presented to the school board. Hoyt Harris — the then-and-current board president — was the sole vote against the plan.
Harris voted against the plan at the time because he believed it needed revisions, he told the Star-Telegram Monday night. He wanted to include a character development plan, and he also wanted to change the name. Specifically, he felt the word “cultural” should be changed to “student” or “Bear Cat,” the Aledo mascot. He said he believed the name change would help get students on board with the plan.
Parents, teachers and students alike mentioned that they hope the district implements changes, despite some of their misgivings.
“Racism and bigotry are not our kids’ default setting,” Manyande said.