LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. – A hashtag on social media is leading some in the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District to share stories of racism and inequality.
On Tuesday, teachers, parents and students — both present and past — discussed their own experiences of discriminatory behavior in the district, during a demonstration outside of the Tony L. Stansberry Leadership Center.
“I’m a black man, but if I don’t feel comfortable walking in that building, I can’t imagine how a teenager feels,” said one teacher to the crowd of about 100 protesters. “People in that building told me they hate my hair. They hate the way I walk.”
Maryam Khalil is a Lee’s Summit West graduate. She recently posted #OurStruggleLSR7 on Twitter following the death of George Floyd. The hashtag, which has been shared countless times, details personal stories of alleged racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia.
“It’s human nature to have human bias,” Khalil said. “What we’re asking is for you to work on it so that we don’t have to face this bigotry and discrimination that effects our education.”
Khalil said there was a noticeable shift in how people treated her at school when she started wearing a hijab halfway through high school.
“People would make assumptions about, ‘This is not how a Muslim woman acts. Why are you so loud? Why are you interested in that?’ It’s assumptions like that that repress someone’s ambition, and I think that’s something that shouldn’t be happening at public schools,” she said.
“They need to listen and read every single one of the tweets,” former student Ayann Musse said.
Musse said she was a regular victim of racial microaggressions while attending Lee’s Summit North.
“I had heard ‘You’re really pretty for a black girl. You’re smart for a black person,’” she recalled. “’You sound very white when you talk,’ as if that was superior to any other way of speaking.”
Dana Tiller has three children in the district and said one of her sons constantly hears the n-word being thrown around school and on the bus.
“I am so glad all of this is coming out,” she said. “We have to get it right. We have to get it right for our kids.”
Those protesting want the district to discipline prejudice behavior, require mandatory cultural humility training, make diversity a priority in hiring process, create support office for marginalized groups, and add multicultural experiences to the curriculum. A full list of their demands and a petition can be found here.
The district released the following statement in response to the hashtag:
“At Lee’s Summit R-7 Schools, we know students can achieve their full potential only when they feel safe, secure and supported. We have read each one of the stories shared by students, staff and alumni using the #OurStruggleLSR7; their stories reinforce that we have significant work to do in order to ensure every student feels welcome, valued and included in our school buildings.
“LSR7’s Equity Plan approved in February 2019 provides a framework to enact long-term, sustainable change in the district, and we have communicated our firm commitment to that plan.
“We also hear loud and clear that our plan moving forward must involve students, staff and community and incorporate immediate, responsive additions to ensure that we are prepared to provide safe and equitable environments when school begins in August; it is critical that this collaborative work to build the inclusive culture our students, staff and alumni have asked for include the newly-formed Board of Education and incoming Superintendent Dr. David Buck.”
Lee’s Summit is isn’t the only local school district being called out for discriminatory behavior. #BlackatBSSD details similar discriminatory experiences in the Blue Springs School District. You can read the district’s response here.
As demonstrators rallied outside of LSR7 headquarters, the Board of Education swore-in Megan Marshall, the board’s first African American member. They also named Ryan Murdock as president of the board and Kim Fritchie as vice-president.