NAACP: Racial incident ‘teaching moment’ for students

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Grosse Pointe Farms — A local chapter of the NAACP branch said Wednesday it will work with Grosse Pointe Public Schools community after a photo showing students with racial slurs written on their bodies was posted on social media.

“This is truly a teaching moment,” said David Smydra, interim vice president of the Grosse Pointe-Harper Woods NAACP. “This is truly an opportunity for the students and parents who attend this wonderful school to learn from this incident in a way that will change lives for the positive for years and years to come.”

Smydra’s remarks were made at a news conference at Grosse Pointe South High School days after a group of students was suspended over the photo, which was taken off-campus at a party, was posted over the weekend displaying the racial slurs.

The branch plans to work the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the state Attorney General’s Office cyber education unit to provide programming that promotes better racial understanding in the Grosse Pointe community, said Greg Bowens, interim president of the NAACP branch.

The state Department of Civil Rights has been working with Grosse Pointe South High in a leadership program in coordination with the University of Michigan, Bowens said. There are plans for a separate forums for parents and children on the dangers of social media.

When school administrators learned of the photo over the weekend, they contacted students and families, according to principal Moussa Hamka, in a letter to parents. The four students in the image were suspended for five days beginning Monday and two other students were suspended for threatening other classmates involving the incident, school officials said.

School officials said this week that while the suspensions do not fully address the underlying issues, they are committed to continuing work to create a safe environment for students.

“The way that South handled it, I’m told, it should be a model for other schools.” Bowens said. “This is not an isolated incident that just happens in Grosse Pointe ... When we come together as a community, we have the opportunity to support students when they stand up to racism and bigotry and to support administrators when they step out and try to do the right thing.”

The image shows two girls and a boy lifting their shirts to reveal the “N-word” written across their stomachs in dark letters. Another girl did not have a racial slur but had a message on her leg supporting marijuana use.

Miracle Bailey, 18, and a senior at South, said a friend first noticed the photo on Instagram and questioned the person who posted it. When that person refused to take the image down, Bailey said her friend shared it on Twitter as a way to bring attention to the situation.

Bailey said the photo shocked her.

“There have been similar pictures in southern states, but I never thought it would be my school,” she said. “My blood was kind of boiling that something had to be done.”

Bailey, who is president of her school’s Black Awareness Society for Education group, said she told the principal “we just have to accept the fact that this happened, embrace that this happened. What can we do so that it can’t happen again the future?”

Bailey said that despite the incident, she feels comfortable as a black student at school.

“Grosse Pointe isn’t a racist community,” she said. “What we’re doing here is using this incident to our advantage and encourage students to think before they post online — and embrace diversity.”

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