Lowell High School in San Francisco was the scene of a walkout this week when approximately two dozen students demonstrated because of an objectionable sign that was displayed on a library window at the school, report Kale Williams and Hamed Aleaziz of the San Francisco Chronicle. Posted on Feb. 5, the sign read “Happy Black History Month #Gang” and was surrounded by pictures of hip-hop artists, African American entertainers, and President Obama.
Principal Andrew W. Ishibashi said these photos were “insensitive to the racial stereotyping of black people that is far too prevalent in our society.” The sign was removed, but black students continued to be incensed by the use of the hashtag #gang, which they claim is a negative reference to their race. The Afrikan Black Coalition student group added that past racist issues and a climate in the school that is uncomfortable for African American students led the Black Student Union to schedule the walkout.
That morning the students stood in line in front of Lowell with signs saying “Don’t Stereotype Us,” Black Minds Matter,” and “We are Young Black Scholars.” A rally at City Hall was held later.
“A lot of students from other ethnic groups stereotype us without really knowing us,” said Mikayla Sherman, a junior at the school who joined the walkout. “We are protesting to make a stand against the SFUSD for not handling the situation the way we felt they should. We don’t have black history at this school. We want teacher support. We want all the support we can get.”
Lowell has 2,650 students, of whom fewer than 2% are black.
“I want to assure you that we stand against racism and racist behavior,” Ishibashi said. “The inappropriate posting of pictures and comments that occurred Feb. 5 is wholly unacceptable.”
Daryle Washington, whose child attends Sala Burton Academic High School in the San Francisco United School District, said the incident was going to be a catalyst for bringing about change in the district.
Ishibashi stated in a letter that the student who put the sign up did not intend for it to be a malicious act and was extremely remorseful. Still, he added, the school is cognizant that a message like this one could have damaging effects on students and community as well.
Lowell is the crown jewel of the city’s schools and boasts some of the highest test performance in the nation. But young, black advocates say the school is failing them and that it needs some significant changes.
Chy’na Davis, a sophomore at Lowell, said she believed the sign was put up to offend black students, but it remained in place for several days. She also said the majority of her friends who were not black had no idea why the experience was offensive to black students, writes Mother Jones’ Kristina Rizga.
Davis explained that the sign was just the straw that broke the camel’s back based on the undercurrent of racism that pervades the school. She would like to see more intervention by teachers and more discussions about police brutality or the Black Lives Matter campaign.
Supervisor Malia Cohen, who is also a Lowell alumna, told the students that her office was fully behind them, according to Ayo Suber reporting for Hoodline.
“No student at Lowell should feel isolated, whether the number is 30 percent or 3 percent,” she said.
Matt Haney, SFUSD board president, also attended Lowell and said the students were bringing up “important issues.”
Although the district passed a policy last year to improve African American student achievement, he acknowledges that more work needs to be done. He called the incident a systemic issue surrounding the manner in which the black scholars in the city are served, says KTVU-TV. SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza stated that he was disturbed to hear of the incident and proud of the young people who are speaking up. He wanted the kids to know that they had been heard and understood.
KNTV’s Cheryl Hurd reported that the students at the district board meeting on Tuesday evening said they wanted a curriculum change and more African American teachers and staff.
Rev. Amos Brown, president of the local NAACP branch, who attended the meeting, called the walkout proof that “courage has not skipped the Millennial generation.”