Early Wednesday morning, Tamara Brown, a junior at Bloomington High School North, walked through the hallways of her school, moving from class to class. As she walked, Brown was stopped by multiple students wearing Confederate flags as hats and capes draped across their bodies, embracing the red flag dashed with blue and white lines.
They yelled things such as, “If you want to start stuff, then we’ll start stuff too,” and “The South will rise again,” to Brown and other students throughout the school’s campus.
It angered Brown, along with a small group of friends, to no longer feel safe in her own school.
“This is not just hurting our feelings, but it is putting us in danger,” Brown said.
After voicing their concerns to the school administration, teachers and guidance counselors and not receiving the change they saw as necessary, the group formed a rally at the Monroe County Community School Corporation district office later that afternoon.
A group of about 30 students — in addition to faculty members, students from Bloomington High School South and other community members — gathered in front of the district office to voice their concerns.
Following an hourlong open forum led by the district superintendent, Judith DeMuth, a letter was read aloud to the group that would be sent home to the students’ families that evening.
The letter stated the Confederate flag was banned completely from the school, school-sponsored events and functions.
“The safety and well-being of all of our students is always at the forefront of our schools and what we worry about every day,” DeMuth said.
Brown put her head in her hands and started swaying back and forth as tears slowly started to drip down her face at the letter reading.
“Today was about getting our voice heard, and that is exactly what happened,” Brown said.
In addition to the letter, the administration will create focus groups in all the schools within the district to brainstorm educational programs to help amend the current unhealthy learning environment.
Prior to the letter reading, various students, faculty members and community members voiced their concerns in the forum.
The day prior to the incident in the hallway, Brown counted eight flags either draped on people’s backs or attached as a sticker on objects as she went through her school day.
“These people were wearing this in statement to claim that there was invalidity in in my feelings of this being a racist statement,” Brown said.
This should be a corporate-wide stance, Brown said. At BHSS, the use of the flag had already been banned after an incident involving physical violence.
“It is imperative that we take this message that we have here today to create safe schools where that no student has to come to school and feel afraid to go through those doors,” said Greg Chaffin, guidance counselor at BHSN. “No matter their sexual orientation, the color of their skin, their religious belief or non-religious belief — this is why I work for Bloomington High School North.”
Chaffin said many of his colleagues did not attend the event in fear of losing their jobs.
“That better send a message to administration, to the board,” Chaffin said. “These are educated, intelligent, caring teachers who are afraid to come to this forum.”
As each person spoke, the room stayed silent minus the frequent gasps of disbelief from the stories of discrimination the students were sharing.
“One person came up to me and said, ‘When the faggots can wear their flags, then so can we,’” Sarah Hannon, junior at BHSN, said.
Lat Joor Awa “LJ” Gaye, junior at BHHS, heard about the rally. Once the school day ended, he immediately went to the district office.
“What I’m trying to make people see in this community is that it’s people that walk like us, talk like us, eat with us, talk to us, that act like this,” Gaye said.
Gaye told a story to the group of when he was told to leave the country in response to a lecture he was giving on racial equality, as the answer to solving the racial issues that the community faces. Gaye said he was also suspended from school when he wore a traditional African head wrap because he was told it could be a “thug piece” or start gangs in the school.
“I really hope that this community effects change, and I know we are capable of it because it needs to happen,” Gaye said. “We have that strength.”
Following the open forum, the students expressed feelings of utter shock.
“This shows that there is really power in groups,” Hannon said. “You go to do something if you want something to happen.”