FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Slurs uttered in the hallways, taunts to “go back from where you came from,” teachers and administrators indifferent to complaints, and then a social media post of a student wearing blackface set off the small minority population at Homestead High School and they demanded to be heard.
That’s what students told WANE 15 after a Thursday morning assembly to address the outrage felt by them and their peers after the blackface photo appeared on social media and “nothing was done about it.”
Senior Aaliyah Griggs says it’s part of a culture that’s been going on for years.
“Us kids just want to feel comfortable in this school. There’s no reason that us minority students should not feel comfortable coming to school,” Griggs said outside the high school just after a lockout was declared by administrators. One post circulating social media shows a physical altercation that reportedly broke out at the end of the assembly.
Griggs and three young men, who are waiting for permission from their parents, opened up to WANE 15 on the racial problems at the high school.
“We feel the school tends to favor them (white kids),” Griggs said, because the school is predominantly white. “We bring things to their attention before we make it an outrage. Like today, we spoke up for ourselves. We go to the administration and they just don’t say anything. They just kind of like throw it behind the bush and forget about it and just try to (say) it’s a good school.”
The culture impacts learning, Griggs said.
‘We’re always on our tippy toes’
“We’re always on our tippy toes. We always feel like we can’t do ‘this’ because they’re going to single us out. We’re even uncomfortable with some of our teachers. We definitely feel like there should be 10 times more diversity in our staff and the administration. I believe there’s only four African-American teachers and administrators and we just feel like our voices aren’t heard,” Griggs said.
‘The truth of the matter is they don’t understand what we’re saying. They don’t understand we’re not comfortable
Griggs said slurs are often muttered. “I do know under their breath, people have said derogatory things and even in the meeting today, they used the phrase like “big Black girls,” Griggs reported. No one said it was unacceptable, she added.
“There have been outbreaks in the past on social media saying derogatory things and we feel like nothing is being done about it.
“We need them to teach people, obviously this is something that is taught at home, that this is okay and we need this to be brought back into the school and taught that it’s not okay in any race, in all nationalities,” Griggs said.
Griggs said it’s better for the school to be diverse, that “it brings a lot more to the school.”
Four years ago, Griggs feared attending Homestead because she wasn’t sure how she’d be treated,” she said.
What will be done? Griggs said at the end of the meeting, people circulated with notebooks and took suggestions.
Griggs said the principal, Susan Summers, announced that the school would start to include more information on Black Lives Matter and there would be diversity information on the walls, like posters, noting Black History Month. So far, there’s nothing “celebratory of Black people and how far we’ve come,” Griggs said.
A few teachers acknowledge Black history and most of them teach social studies or history, she added.
“All the paintings on the wall are white people. There’s no inclusivity, no Black people, no Indian, no Asian, it’s not inclusive.”
It almost feels like we’re trapped, like we’re the outcasts of it.
Griggs believes the problem is growing as the African American population increases at the school.
NEXT: Three boys speak out on their experiences at Homestead High School.
Three friends caught up with WANE 15 after the school was put under a lockout, following a reportedly riotous assembly where they said two girls started fighting and then the fight escalated to include other students.
“We decided to protest because the school wasn’t willing to do anything,” the junior said, referring to the social media post that started the outrage. “We were peacefully protesting and then people who weren’t part of it started being not civil with it. They started bringing us down.”
The junior said fights occur rarely at Homestead and he was shocked the teachers didn’t try to put a stop to it. Instead, students and school law enforcement officers broke up the fights.
“It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen here,” he said.
The sophomore referred to the history of trouble at the school regarding minorities. “Not even Black-skinned, but people who transferred here from another county. They tell them to go back to their country,” the sophomore said. “We don’t like you. We hate you.”
The privileged also “make assumptions about people who live in apartments,” the sophomore said.
The junior said white kids “who have grown up with a certain privilege has led them to an entitled behavior towards everyone, not just minorities. I’ve seen white people be mean to each other.”
‘What I saw today. It hurt’
The freshman said his folks “usually tell me that you’ve got to be glad for what you have, that some people would die to have this. But you worked so hard to get there and this is how you get treated? Like there’s so many ways that you belong here. You don’t deserve to get treated any other way,” he said. “What I saw today, it hurt.”
The fight that broke out during the assembly was between two girls. One of the girls used a racial slur. “She thought it was cool to say it again,” the sophomore said. Some students used the assembly “as an excuse to skip class,” he added.
The sophomore said he’s been accused of things he didn’t do, “but still I get in trouble for it. The people need to know what happened here and that’s it’s not ok. We’re just teenagers. We might be playfighting in the hallways. If it’s between two Black kids, we get in trouble, like an out of school suspension. If it’s a white kid, they won’t get in trouble.”
As an example, the sophomore said the girl who used the “n” word was escorted out of the school, but didn’t suffer any punishment for using the word.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said the freshman quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.
All of them believe there was a lockout at the school Thursday because administrators “were afraid someone could be outside with a weapon.”
SACS parent speaks out: ‘it’s not a Homestead issue, it’s a Southwest Allen County Schools issue’
Nasim Khan, a SACS parent since 2016, has dealt with issues for years. Her bi-racial children have been called names and her older son was told he was going to be deported after the 2016 election, she said.
“This is not something that’s new. This is something that’s been going on for years. And parents have tried to get things done. It’s going to take a united front to implement programs and solutions,” said Khan, who attended the news conference Thursday.
Even though she believes things happen for a reason, and the most recent case that sparked the outrage may get the attention of the people who need to change the system, “it’s not just about this one situation,” she said. “There’s a cultural indifference in Southwest Allen County Schools. Segregation is still in Southwest Allen County Schools.”
Her most recent problem with SACS came when her middle school son received lunch detention and was supposed to eat his lunch in a school office. He called his mother, upset he hadn’t eaten. A school administrator not only said she saw him come in with a lunch, but was witnessing him eating his lunch when Khan called the office.
However, when the principal checked the cameras at Woodside Middle School, there was no evidence that he ate his lunch, Khan said.
“We’re just going to put it on blast. It didn’t have to come to this. People need to be taken seriously,” Khan said.
She believes a cultural change will come with referendums, new policies and an outside source that could act as a referee or moderator when racial or discrimination issues arise.
“We need a group of people who don’t work for Southwest Allen County Schools to be able to help these children navigate through whatever issue they may be dealing with,” Khan said, adding that these problems affect a student’s mental health. “It’s not a Homestead issue. It’s a Southwest Allen County issue.”