Supporters rally behind Gwinnett school board chair after GOP criticism

Tarece Johnson was sworn in to the Gwinnett County school board in December 2020. She recently was a target of some conservatives because of statements she made about race on social media.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Tarece Johnson was sworn in to the Gwinnett County school board in December 2020. She recently was a target of some conservatives because of statements she made about race on social media. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

A group of community leaders, activists and elected officials have signed a letter of support for Gwinnett County Board of Education Chair Tarece Johnson.

Johnson recently drew criticism from some conservatives over statements she made on social media about systemic racism being pervasive.

State Sen. Burt Jones, a Republican candidate for Lt. Governor, said the statements were divisive and inflammatory. He highlighted several videos of Johnson and asked the Georgia Board of Education to investigate whether her “statements, implemented policies and administrative actions” violate code of conduct policies on a county or statewide level.

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“The ongoing attacks have taken us from a conversation that centers the education of our children to erroneous allegations and personal attacks that threaten the safety of our leaders,” the letter said. Signers include fellow school board member Karen Watkins and state Reps. Jasmine Clark and Marvin Lim, both Gwinnett County Democrats.

Johnson, a Democrat, often speaks publicly about diversity, inclusion, justice and race. At the board’s January meeting, she became the first Black woman to be elected chair.

In one video that Jones highlighted, Johnson says white children “will grow up and they will perpetuate the racist systems that my children have to live in.” The video is part of a series Johnson posted about the importance of teaching children not to be racist. She posted it in 2020 after George Floyd died while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

“As a multicultural educational leader, I advocate for the representation of all races, ethnicities, religions and cultures,” Johnson said in a statement after Jones called for an investigation. “Every child, regardless of race, must know they are seen, heard, respected, valued and celebrated. All children must learn historical facts and understand that their stories and lives matter.”

The letter supporting Johnson says: “It is never acceptable for colleagues and fellow elected leaders to make false, disparaging public comments that are unfounded and meant to fuel a disinformation campaign.”

The letter references vitriol Johnson has faced since she was elected to the board and says political disagreements should not result in anyone feeling unsafe.

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Georgia Working Families Party, a progressive political party that advocates for labor rights and racial justice, wrote the letter and gathered signatures in support of Johnson.

Most of the letter’s 50 signatures are from leaders of local activist groups.