Religious leaders, community gather to discuss racism in Anne Arundel schools

E.B. Furgurson III
Contact Reporterpfurgurson@capgaznews.com

Reacting to the continuing racial incidents in county schools, a coalition of ministers called on the community to stand up to the hatred Friday night.

The United Black Clergy of Anne Arundel County called a meeting Friday evening to examine the culture of racism in Pasadena and across the county, and to listen to the community in order to unite against the forces of evil and ignorance.

And about 40 people, mostly white, showed up. Families and individuals sat in the community room of the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church Magothy, reacting with occasional shouts and in tandem to prompts from clergy and speakers.

“We want to see if the community as a whole will join us in being silent no more and making a statement that racism is not welcome in Pasadena,” said Apostle Larry Lee Thomas, president of the United Black Clergy.

And they did. Holding hands, they stood and followed Thomas’ cue: “I have a voice, you have a voice. Silent no more.”

“We are all outraged about what is happening. We need to come together to say we denounce the racism that is troubling our community,” Thomas continued.

“We have to make sure from our elected officials, from our clergy, from our community … stand together and shout, ‘Silent no more.’ ”

County Police Chief Timothy Altomare was the only county official at hand. He spoke about the continued commitment of his department.

“We denounce racism everywhere, and we denounce it here in Pasadena,” he said.

He commented that whatever forces have “negatively impacted our discourse with each other have also turned some to action.” And he borrowed from some clergy, “There is only one race — the human race — and Anne Arundel County police are dedicated to serving with each member of that race.”

Thomas called on public officials, including county schools Superintendent George Arlotto, to help create more active solutions.

“We are not going away until we have confidence that African-American children and their families are safe in Pasadena,” Thomas said in his appeal to the community. “We are still seeing manifestations of racial discord in our schools. This is believed to be a reflection of a small portion of the Pasadena community.”

Black students at Chesapeake High School have repeatedly been the target of racist attacks. Last week, a black student was sent an anonymous message via AirDrop that included a photo of a Confederate flag and the words, “You n***s will rue the day,” according to the student’s mother.

And before that, the words “Kill all blacks” were found written on a sheet of paper students use to sign in and out of counseling sessions.

The high school suffered a slew of racially motivated incidents last spring. From ethnic and religious slurs and symbols written on a toilet seat and carved into a doorway, to a brawl with “racial overtones” and a student flying a Confederate flag from the back of their truck and hanging a noose in the vehicle’s rearview mirror.

By the end of the 2017-18 school year, students complained of daily racial abuses.

Chesapeake Bay Middle School reported its first racist act last week. A noose made of toilet paper was hung inside a stall in a boys bathroom.

Arlotto expressed the system’s outrage Thursday. “It really troubles us; in fact, it angers us,” he said.

He said school officials have not identified why the incidents seems to be concentrated in the Chesapeake High feeder system and that a solution would require input from the entire community.

Extra resources have been deployed to Chesapeake including a community ambassador to act as liaison between staff and students and a student equity team to report on the climate at the school.

The schools are planning a meeting on the issues. Those gathered are anxiously awaiting the announcement and hoping the meeting is “our” meeting as opposed to “their” meeting, suggesting dialogue is the key to moving forward.

A few in the audience stood to offer testimony and make suggestions. One that Altomare took to heart and promised action on is to find a way, despite regulations about privacy, to release an accounting of all racially tinged calls police respond to.

That was suggested as a solid step in understanding the problem. One woman noted that people often wave away racial incidents as kids who don’t know any better, or some other excuse.

But, she suggested, if we had a true accounting of the number of incidents, perhaps people would begin to realize how widespread the problem is.

Several decried the schools’ practice of sending letters home after an incident that include a suggestion that parents talk to students about race.

“Well, if you are a racist parent, what do you think you’ll be teaching your child?” one woman shouted to a groundswell of acknowledgment from the audience.

As they await the word on the school system’s meeting plans, the United Black Clergy will meet again next week to begin laying plans for future action.

“This was a meeting to begin listening to the community and to seek a united voice,” Thomas said. “There is a lot of work to do.”

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