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Black students of Henrico speak out against systematic and institutionalized racism

Posted at 3:43 PM, Jun 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-26 15:43:17-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Minority students who attend Henrico County Public Schools are amplifying their voices and highlighting their encounters with racial discrimination through an anonymous Instagram page called Black at HCPS.

The Instagram account made its debut June 19, 2020 with the following statement within an in-feed post.

Welcome to Black at HCPS. This is a safe space for black students and non-black POC to submit stories of their experiences with racism and prejudice across Henrico County Public Schools. Current students or alumni can submit stories. You may submit a story through DM or the google form link in our bio. When submitting, you are not required to reveal your identity, and the name of the school is completely optional. Our goal is to amplify the voices of black and POC Henrico County students. #blackathcps

On the page, students share testimonials about teachers ignoring race-based verbal, physical, and social media harassment; students wearing blackface; school projects such as creating a wanted poster for a runaway slave; racial profiling leading to intrusive searches; micro-aggressions for wearing a hijab, and more stereotypical actions.

The account doesn't just shed light on institutionalized racism, it actively demands change by asking followers to email Virginia government officials to hold them accountable.

Black at HCPS has asked for the county's current Code of Conduct to be revised to clearly define racism and racial discrimination. In addition, it has asked the county to develop a set procedure for the consequences of such cases.

"The leadership of HCPS is reading and reflecting on every post that appears on @blackathcps. We value the courage of the individuals whose voices were silenced for too long," Henrico School Superintendent Amy Cashwell said about the Instagram account. "It might not be what people think we’d want to hear, but without a doubt it’s what we need to hear if we’re to enact the changes necessary for the equitable and inclusive school environment we’re striving for every day."

Not only does the social media page share stories, it conducts polls to assess if minority students know their rights when placed in uncomfortable positions.

Some examples include:

“Did you know that victims of harassment must report the alleged discrimination within fifteen school days of the occurrence?"

"Do you believe that the Henrico County School Board has upheld its promise to maintain a working and learning environment which provides for fair and equitable treatment, including freedom from sexual harassment, discrimination, and harassment based on a student's disability, race, color, national origin, religion or any other characteristic by law for all students and employees?"

As of June 24, 2020, more than 400 incidents of racism have been reported on the Black at HCPS account. Comments left on the page indicate families and students would like to see fewer promises from school leaders about addressing racism and more tangible change.

"We thank everyone for being so open with us," Cashwell's statement continued. "Our goal is that we lead the way in bringing empathy, introspection, and action as we continue this critical dialogue."

More than 50,000 students now attend Henrico Schools. According to the county, 46% of students identify as Caucasian, 37% as African American, 8% as Asian, 6% as Hispanic: 6%, and 3% as other. In 2018, Henrico Schools hired its first Director of Equity and Diversity.