Buford Senior Academy students Ryan Robertson, left, Hayden Shepheard and Joshua Young, right, react as they watch a music video featuring music artist Lil Nas X during a Black History Month music themed event at their school’s library on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Buford school district increases efforts for diversity, inclusion

A class of Buford Academy second graders marched into the media center eager to get their hands on a new exhibit. In honor of Black History Month, the staff created a pop-up museum with photos, books and recordings of noted black people and their accomplishments.

Without any prompting, three boys found books that interested them and hunkered down to read. Joshua Chatmon, Bennson Starling and Matthew Kim are of different races, and that made no difference to them.

It’s that kind of integration that Lacrecia Smith said comes about organically when people allow themselves to just be people. Smith is the diversity and inclusion manager for Buford City Schools — a position created to make sure minority voices were part of district conversations about growth, curriculum, student achievement and just about everything else important to parents, students, staff and the community.

“Buford has a rich history of acknowledging the contributions of African Americans,” said Smith. “Regardless of what people outside the community may think, diversity is alive and well here.”

Smith’s position was created last school year after an audio tape surfaced of then-Superintendent Gaye Hamby on a profanity-laden racist rant about black workers who had angered him. The subsequent outrage and feelings of mistrust are slowly dissipating, but parents and community stakeholders insisted on more transparency and better communication from administrators.

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A recent board meeting when several parents demanded answers about the abrupt resignation of Buford High principal Lindsey Allen showed some believe the district has a way to go, but everyone has agreed that ensuring diversity is included in the district’s vision is a step in the right direction.

Assistant Superintendent Melanie Reid said in an emailed statement that Smith’s “vision for our system aligns perfectly with the goals we have set through our strategic plan. She has proven to be a significant asset to our district in this new role and we appreciate all that she does for our school community.”

Many who have been critical of the some board actions have applauded Smith’s work so far.

James Taylor, president of Black Men United for Children and Humanity, a grassroots education advocacy group, has called for monumental change in Buford City Schools, but seems content with Smith’s work.

“From my observation, Dr. Smith is doing a great job,” he said. “Is it enough? It’s not for me to say. It’s for the community to decide. She’s certainly a uniter and that’s something Buford needs.”

Although Black History Month has always been celebrated in the school district, she’s pushed to make it more relevant, entertaining and inclusive.

Buford Middle School media specialist Susan Nabors set up a virtual museum featuring the Tuskegee Airmen, to offer lessons about World War II in a way that involved diverse people. The museum included areas for students to study historical photographs or scan QR codes to access online articles on various reading levels. There was also an area where students could watch videos of the Tuskegee Airmen being interviewed.

“I couldn’t believe that soldiers were treated so badly just because they were black,” said 7th grader Audrey Getz. “They were fighting for our country and still discriminated against.”

Classmate Tommy Olawole agreed, but took the lesson a different way: “They proved that despite the struggles the were under, they fought hard to be some of the best pilots in the world.”

Although Olawole was born in Buford, his parents immigrated from Nigeria.

Buford High School AP language arts teacher Amy Lister, inspired by a summer professional development class, organized a trip to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights last month and has incorporated its theme into her class assignments. “She saw the potential for this unit and its ability for students to have an awareness and appreciation of leaders who have gone before us to fight injustices and how we need to rise to the challenge to fight them still today,” Smith said.

When the weather is nicer, students take a walking tour of downtown Buford and learn about people whose names adorn building and whom streets were named after.

Smith pointed out that Ed Merritt and Robert Bell, who both served on the school board for many years, have descendants who currently attend Buford schools. Robert Bell Parkway was opened in 2004, a stone’s throw away from the school complex.

As a lifelong resident of Buford, Smith said she’s proud to be a part of the next chapter.

“My goal for the future as the D&I program manager is to continue to work along with administrators and classroom teachers to support the incorporation of activities and instruction that celebrates and honors not only black history, but the inclusion of all people and the contributions they have made to Buford, to Georgia, to our country and to this world as a whole.”

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