‘It was really eye opening': Former students create ‘BlackAtHCPS’ detailing stories of racism, inequality

Updated: Jun. 19, 2020 at 10:22 PM EDT
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HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - A group of former Henrico County students has created a social media page aimed at sharing anonymous stories of racism and inequality within the school system.

An Instagram account called “Black At HCPS” was created two days ago and now more than 50 personal stories have been posted, drawing more than 1,000 followers.

“I thought it was an empowering and awesome way for black people and non-black people of color to share their experiences with racism,” said one of the organizers.

Due to the goal of anonymity, none of the organizers wished to share their names, however, the group said they created this account after seeing similar success in other states.

What happens is you either send an email to the group (blackathcps@gmail.com) or direct message the page detailing your experience with racism and/or inequality within the school system.

The group then creates a post anonymously with your story for others to see and leave comments.

“You can tell in some of the messages that they’re so fed up and just tired of the system not listening and not changing,” an organizer said. “These kids go to school and they don’t feel comfortable. I’m white, so I can’t even relate to that, but it does break my heart to hear kids don’t feel comfortable around students who aren’t like them.”

The group said the response has been overwhelming.

"It was just shocking that four, five, six people can start something that hundreds of kids across our location can just relate to," said another organizer.

However, it is not just students taking part in this movement.

The group said a teacher sent in an experience of her own, writing the following:

“I teach in Henrico County and had a coworker who became frustrated with the spelling of our students’ names (mind you, many of our students are here for the first time, on asylum, living below the poverty lines, or just plain NOT WHITE – and perfect). On two separate occasions with others present, she said, “I mean these names are ridiculous, they’re like Chinese names, it’s the sound of dropping silverware on the floor.”

“It was really eye-opening to see that it happens among the staff,” said one organizer. “Then after seeing all these stories related to their teachers; it was really shocking.”

“I wouldn’t say I was surprised to see so many submissions, I knew this was a prevalent issue,” said another organizer. “So, unfortunately, I was expecting a lot of stories. What surprised me the most was reading the stories that had teachers involved. I was expecting there to be a lot more incidents among students, but there were a handful that involved teachers. It sort of scared me because these are our educators and if we can’t trust the teachers at our schools, then how can we deem it as a safe learning environment.”

The group added that’s what the goal is; for people to listen and learn, and hopefully start making a change.

“I haven’t been attacked for my race or my gender or anything, but seeing the other point of view is shocking and heartbreaking to see that it’s so prominent and it happens too often,” said another organizer.

“It’s about time we give them a voice and we amplify their voices,” added another organizer. “If people can just respect that and not try to find a way to make this seem like a negative thing because it’s not at all. We just want to see change and I know so many people want to see change.”

The group hopes the school system will support them in this effort.

“We have also been keeping track of the names and dates of these incidents,” an organizer said. “We want to show that these are not simply isolated incidents triggered by “bad apple” students/teachers, but part of a larger pattern that the county has often ignored and failed to address.”

“In order to solve this we have to have those uncomfortable conversations to make progress,” added another organizer.

In a statement to NBC12 a spokesperson for Henrico County Public Schools says:

“We’re thankful for the many people who brought the account and its contents to our attention since yesterday. The leadership of HCPS is reading and reflecting on every post. We applaud the courage of the individuals whose voices were silent for too long.

“This is what it looks like when you’re a school system that’s intentional about a culture that makes it safe for students, graduates, teachers, and others to share their personal experiences. It might not be what people think we’d want to hear, but without a doubt it’s what we need to hear if we’re to enact the changes necessary for the equitable and inclusive school environment we’re striving for every day.”

Henrico School leaders say they’re trying to work beyond their statements. On Tuesday, June 23, another “Community Conversations” will take place a 6 p.m. with an online panel of HCPS high school students to discuss issues of racism, injustice and inequity.

For more details, click here.

Additionally, HCPS is asking for public input on Douglas S. Freeman High School’s nickname “Rebel.”

“We are taking these and other personal statements seriously,” a spokesperson said regarding the Instagram account. “Henrico County Public Schools will lead the way in bringing empathy, introspection and action as we continue this critical dialogue.”

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