Forsyth student: Teach our county’s racist past so we can learn from it and move beyond it

Rising high school senior Damian Galvan addressed the Forsyth County school board last week to defend diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, now under fire by some conservative community members.
Rising high school senior Damian Galvan addressed the Forsyth County school board last week to defend diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, now under fire by some conservative community members.

Teen says opposition to diversity hurts students whose future will most certainly be multicultural

Damian Galvan is a politically active student in Forsyth County where he is a rising senior. He became politically active after the murder of George Floyd last year.

In this guest column, Damian explains why he addressed the Forsyth County school board last week to defend diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, now under fire by some conservative community members. One reason he cites: As a Mexican American, Damian has never had a Hispanic teacher in his 12 years in Forsyth County schools.

With his best friend and fellow Forsyth student Varoon Kodithala, Damian started the podcast Polititeen, saying, “I believe that conversations, whether they be locally, nationally, or globally, are crucial to creating progress.”

Beyond Polititeen, Damian provides political commentary through Twitch. He plans to double major in college in English and political science.

By Damian Galvan

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle.” Although these words were spoken six decades ago, the struggle Dr. King was describing has only minimally shifted.

A week ago, I spoke to the Forsyth County’s Board of Education to counter a growing wave of opposition of the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion or DEI plan. In essence, the critics were opposing a plan designed to ensure equity for all students in the county’s schools.

It is one thing for this rhetoric to be used by parents; it is another to have this rhetoric validated by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. In a letter to the state Board of Education, Brian Kemp did just that.

Why has this become a political issue in which Gov. Kemp feels a need to intervene?

The diversity, equity and inclusion initiative in Forsyth aims to do three things, the first being engage students through culturally relevant material. This is not political. Secondly, the plan seeks to diversify a historically white staff here in Forsyth County Schools. This is not political. Thirdly, the plan intends to highlight that Forsyth is taking the proper steps to make sure that all students have equity of opportunity. This is not political. This is the bare minimum.

Damian Galvan
Damian Galvan

By the time I graduate, I will have received all 13 years of my education in Forsyth County schools. Not once have I had a teacher, counselor, coach or principal who looked like me. It is not the fact that an individual is similar in their shared features to students, but rather in their shared experiences.

In his letter, Gov. Kemp said, “Education in Georgia should reflect our fundamental values as a state and a nation.” I agree with him. Our education system should reflect that Forsyth has the fastest growing Asian-American population in the state, that we are predicted to have a majority minority population by this time next year, and that we, as the student body, support each other regardless of race, religion, color, creed, or sexual orientation.

I am an avid believer that no student should be left behind. We must educate students on how to interact with individuals of all backgrounds; DEI sets the foundation to do this. Despite what critics might say, this plan does not belittle or diminish white students in any capacity. If anything, it will show students how to be leaders in a county, state and country becoming more diverse by the second and this applies to students of all backgrounds.

A contention of DEI critics in Forsyth is that parents should decide what their children learn about controversial aspects of our history, that they have a choice whether it should be taught. Many argue the school overstepped by taking on this responsibility.

The schools have not overstepped. If anything, they have stepped too lightly. Forsyth schools teach the Georgia Standards of Excellence, an outdated curriculum that often only glances over topics such as slavery, only mentions certain aspects of the civil rights movement, and never mentions the impact the past still has on the present.

I wish we covered those required topics with greater depth and honesty. The failure to teach how the past impacts the present has consequences, consequences such as the ones that began my journey in political advocacy.

Forsyth County has been notorious for its historic racism. In 1912, Rob Edwards, a Black man, was accused of attacking a white woman in the county. Before he could be tried, he was beaten, lynched, and had his body mutilated via shotgun shells and other means in front of Cumming’s city hall. The circumstances surrounding his lynching and those of other Black men suspected of the crime resulted in the violent removal of all Black residents.

Consequently, for years after the incident, Black residents were violently removed from within the county’s lines. In 1987, TV host Oprah Winfrey visited “A County Where No Black Resident Had Lived for 75 Years,” otherwise known as Forsyth. Many people suggest times have changed since then, but the consequences of not teaching the impact of the past on the present say otherwise.

For example, a Forsyth high school student drove by a crowd protesting police brutality last year and yelled racially insensitive rhetoric and played a song with lyrics along the same lines. This is hurtful, disheartening, racist and not the student’s fault alone – also to blame is a family that either incentivized racist actions such as these or failed to educate the children on why they are wrong. Also at fault is a school system that often times does both.

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability; rather, it moves in the chambers of our county’s Board of Education, channels through crowds that engage in peaceful protest, and comes from articles such as this one.

I am happy the school systems within the state are beginning to take steps to ensure no student, regardless of race, ability, or any other factors, has to feel alone in a classroom. I am glad school leaders are taking steps to make sure no student has to sit next to another that spews hateful language. I am glad the county is preparing the future, for a future of diversity, equity and inclusion.

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