BOE members denounce Arbery killing, call for anti-racist education

School board members in Cobb County and Marietta are denouncing the “senseless” killing of an unarmed black man in south Georgia and are calling on educators to teach students about racism in American society.

Cobb board members Charisse Davis and Dr. Jaha Howard and Angela Orange, a Marietta City school board member, join six of their colleagues on school boards from around the state in a letter expressing outrage at the Feb. 23 shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man. The story has captured national media coverage and sparked a new discussion of the need for a hate crime law in Georgia.

Two white men have been charged with felony murder in connection with the Glynn County killing. The GBI last week arrested Travis McMichael, 34, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 64, after reviewing evidence including a 36-second video of the Feb. 23 incident.

“We find ourselves still asking why unarmed black men die,” the board members, all of whom are black, wrote in the letter released Tuesday. “We aspire to live in a state where our children and their families know that they matter.”

Read the entire letter here.

Howard told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a passive stance against racism “only allows it to continue” affecting minorities, women and others on the margins of society. The most dangerous form of racism is “around the systems and structures and psychologies that we find in our state and in this country,” he added.

“It’s about not being comfortable with the generally accepted, ‘Hey, I’m not racist’ [attitude],” he said. “That is no longer OK.”

Other school board members signing the letter are Everton Blair of Gwinnett County; Jasmine Bowles of Clayton County; Syntel Brown of the Griffin-Spalding school system; Diijon DaCosta of DeKalb County; JacQuez Harris of Twiggs County and Erika Mitchell of Atlanta Public Schools.

The letter asks elected officials to review “discriminatory policies and laws in order to identify ways to be actively against racism” and for voters to challenge those politicians to develop anti-racist policies.

MORE: Full coverage of the Arbery case

Both Howard and Davis said school districts and teachers are directly involved in how history and racism is perceived, so it’s important that they educate students about inequalities for people of color.

“As our kids move on to being citizens, the stakes get higher,” Howard said. “Frankly, we are the best place to start this conversation.”

Davis added that when educators don’t acknowledge that some people in American society aren’t afforded the same level of freedoms as others, they are not adequately preparing students for the world beyond the schoolhouse doors.

“What are we willing to say and do about it if we can’t stand up for these things?” she asked. “We aren’t doing our job.”

RELATEDGroup wants Cobb schools to address racism, bias in classroom

At the district level, school systems can address the legacy of racism by tackling disparities in academic options, discipline and suspension rates between white students and students of color. Many school districts are doing this by hiring chief equity officers, Davis said.

“You have to acknowledge that the work is needed,” she added. “There is a history that has made it not equitable for kids who are of color.”

Howard added that professional training for educators can also teach them how societal inequities can show up in the classroom.

“This is not about pointing a finger to make someone out to be a bad guy,” he said. “This is about what is right.”

Davis said these efforts must include “messy, ugly and hard” conversations that many Americans refuse to have about racism. And it can’t just be black people and other citizens of color who lead these efforts, she said.

“We’re all tired,” she said.

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