Cobb, Marietta school leaders answer ‘call to action’ against racism

School leaders in Cobb County and Marietta are using their platforms to address racism and other societal issues that could affect students in their classrooms.

Cobb school board members Charisse Davis and Jaha Howard on Sunday will host a Call to Action For Anti-Racism demonstration at 6 p.m. at Taylor-Brawner Park in Smyrna.

Howard said he expects about 50 people to show up at the park. Sunday’s gathering is in response to the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis and the ensuing protests.

It's also the latest in a series of public statements Howard and Davis have made about racism and the killing of unarmed black men. Earlier in the month, the pair joined six of their colleagues from around the state to write a letter expressing outrage at the Feb. 23 shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man in Glynn County.

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Howard said he has received a variety of responses to his decision to call for anti-racist education, from people praising his work to others denouncing his comments.

“They’ll have to deal with my voice as long as I have a voice,” he said. “They are going to hear it because it’s about speaking up for those who don’t have one.”

Howard will also take part in the And Campaign's Prayer (&) Action Rally set for 5:30 p.m Monday in Atlanta. The organization "works to educate and and organize Christians for civic and cultural engagement," according to its website.

Davis said school educators must prepare students for the world in which they will live and if it’s based on what you look like, “you might die doing any number of things.”  Educators must incorporate anti-racist education in their lessons to teach students about the many injustices some citizens face so future generations can have a better chance of living in a fairer society, she said.

“I don’t see how you can work with children and not feel the anger of just how unfair this country is,” she said.

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Marietta City Schools Superintendent Grant Rivera on Sunday shared with families how the district recognizes the pain and frustrations some of its students have experienced in the past 10 weeks.

Students in Marietta and around the country have not only had to contend with school closures stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the deaths of Arbery and Floyd and the protests in response to their killings, the superintendent wrote on the system's Facebook page.

Credit: Marietta City Schools

Credit: Marietta City Schools

“The recent events unfolding regarding the deaths of two African American men and other tragic events in our country cut deep for students who are old enough to know and mature enough to relate to their experiences of fear, racism, and social isolationism in their young lives and across generations,” Rivera said.

Part of the school system's "ongoing call to action" to help educators understand those students fears is a cultural fluency initiative implemented last year at Marietta High School. The training program helps teachers and administrators better understand their students' cultural and social differences.

Rivera told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he posted the message because he “had grave concerns about how our children are hurting.” Rivera said Marietta City Schools staff are available to help student navigate issues ranging from racial tension to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve always tried to hear our students’ voices, and now is not the time to silence them,” he said.