Unity Vigil aims to combat racism

Staff Written Front Page, News

By Tia Lynn Ivey

Managing Editor 

In an effort to combat racism and hatred, local community members are organizing a Unity Vigil in response to the recent racist text messages exchanged between Morgan County High School Students that were exposed online last week. 

The vigil will be held this Thursday, Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. outside of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Madison. 

Shockwaves rippled through the local community after screenshots were posted on Facebook exposing a private group chat between Morgan County High School boys, filled with racist and violent  rhetoric. The boys involved are suspended until further notice as the school system decides how to move forward. In the meantime, parents and students are grappling with the situation, feeling endangered and betrayed. Others are decrying a double standard between how white students are disciplined and penalized in such situations vs. how students of color are treated in similar situations. 

“We want everyone treated fairly whether you are brown or white or any color, everyone should be held to the same standard,” Shontell White, a mental health worker and local citizen, to a group of 30 concerned citizens at Sunday’s meeting. “I personally do not want to send another black boy or black girl back to school with other students carrying such hate in their hearts. There is a racial divide…But we don’t want to increase that divide, we want to eliminate the divide.”

Several speakers shared personal stories of how their children were treated in the school system and law enforcement, believing that students of color are treated more harshly than white students. The main example concerned an African-American high school female student who was arrested and charged with terroristic threats  after she sent a text message to herself and six other students at the high school that read, “If you at school leave,” and was followed by a green gun emoji.” 

As of now, none of the boys are facing legal consequences because they did not threaten a specific person, according to District Attorney for Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit. Stephen Bradley. 

The group of citizens want the school system to reform their code of conduct policies with crystal clear standards when it comes to racism, hate crimes and terroristic threats.  

“Our community will not rest until school policy is adjusted to reflect fair and standard guidelines for discipline for all students regardless of race and social status,” said Minnette Thompson, one of the organizers of Thursday’s Unity Vigil. “This is an issue we cannot tackle alone. We must stand together as a community. We are stakeholders and taxpayers in this community and we must forward together in unity and strength to push this issue. “We need the policy in black and white to decide how these situations are handled every time.” 

Thompson implored parents to become advocates for their children. 

“We are also asking parents to get involved if they feel their kids have been targeted, expelled or disciplined unfairly,” said Minnette Lee. 

Some of the speakers at Sunday’s meeting shared how their kids in the high school are coping with the racist text messages that went viral. 

One mother of a student at MCHS shared how her son was afraid to return to school after reading messages from his classmates calling black people the N-word and fantasizing about harming black people should Joe Biden win the Presidential election.   

“My child did not want to go back to school after seeing those messages,” said one mother at Sunday’s meeting, who wished to remain anonymous. “We don’t know who else got those messages or who else is thinking those things. My child knew these boys and thought they were fine. Makes you wonder who else is walking around thinking these things. We have to take it seriously.”

“We don’t want our kids to become another hashtag,” said another mother with a child at the high school. 

Others at Sunday’s meeting suggested starting racial sensitivity classes in the community to proactively combat racism. 

Thursday night’s vigil will be open to the public, featuring local community speakers, words of encouragement to the youth, open discussion and community prayer. 

“We hope you all can come out in support of peace and unity in our community,” said White. “This will be a short, peaceful event…We ask that you wear your masks and practice social distancing as much as possible.”

Bethlehem Baptist Church is located at 1140 Pierce Dairy Road in Madison. 

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