Home Augusta County mother speaks out against racism toward her children in school system

Augusta County mother speaks out against racism toward her children in school system

augusta county
(© Rex Wholster – stock.adobe.com)

Black parents are sharing their stories of how their children are experiencing racially-motivated bullying in Augusta County Schools.

Dr. Amy Tillerson-Brown, a professor of history at Mary Baldwin University, has been following the situation, speaking at Augusta County School Board meetings and sharing statistics on Black students ending up in jail after high school graduation. Across the nation, statistics show a high proportion of Black students receiving suspension for behavior in classrooms, while racist bullying by white students is ignored.

“Augusta County also has an issue with race and racism and a racist school culture, so say parents of black children who go there,” Tillerson-Brown said referencing the school system’s recent policy update on books in school libraries.

The situation was brought to her attention in her role as vice president of the Staunton branch of the NAACP.

Black students in Augusta County Schools are being called the n word.

“If you allow a Black child to be called [the n word] by a white person, that’s discrimination, if you allow that to happen, because you’re making them feel less than,” Tillerson-Brown said.

Felicia Calloway’s five children attend Augusta County Schools. She graduated Garfield High School in Woodbridge and said she did not experience racism at school growing up, but at home. As a biracial child, her father was a Black man and her mother is white and Cherokee, her family was racist against her. Her mother would frequently refer to Calloway and her sister as Black.

“If you ever see me in person and I get emotional, because it hits me. I’m tired of people saying it’s not about race,” Calloway said.

Her children began experiencing racism eight years ago at Wilson Elementary School. Her oldest, 18, just graduated Wilson Memorial High, but three more teenagers in Augusta County Schools have experienced racism.

“I want [my children] to be completely protected [against racism],” Calloway said.

Calloway said school administrators have seen her express “every emotion” when it comes to sticking up for her children. And RISE in Waynesboro helped her learn how to control her emotions and how to better handle situations.

“You’ve got to breathe through it. You’ve got to set yourself higher, even though it hurts,” she said of what she learned from RISE.

Calloway has learned to react more calmly when she confronts administrators about how her children are treated at school.

“I don’t want to succumb to what they want,” Calloway said.

But she will continue to speak out for her children and encourage them to stick up for themselves.

During a visit to Wilson Memorial High in April 2023, Calloway was taunted by white students outside the school making “coon calls” at her. She was not familiar with the racial slur. The same white students had attacked her son six months before at a sleepover.

Calloway would like the Augusta County School Board to create a policy to handle racial bullying and require students to watch documentaries about racism. The school system has a policy for dress code and many other aspects of public school, and should have a policy about prohibiting racism.

“I think the parents need to get more involved,” she said.

Perhaps, Virginia’s school systems are so far removed from the Civil Rights Movement, today’s administrators do not know how to handle racism in public schools.

“They never have handled the situation. I mean since the [Brown V. Board of Education] decision [in 1954],” Tillerson-Brown said. “I can’t think of a school in Virginia that has ever dealt with racism on the day-to-day as it relates to Black kids in an effective manner.”

According to Tillerson-Brown, regardless of parents sharing their children’s stories of racism, data shows that Black students are being treated differently.

“Anytime you have disproportionate numbers of Black people who are being suspended or disciplined, you gotta ask: ‘If we accept that on its face, what are we accepting? That the Black children are just more inclined to criminal behavior?'”

Black students are not necessarily being suspended from school in the United States just for behavior after experiencing racism in school. Tillerson-Brown believes some are suspended because a teacher perceives them as a threat. George Floyd was pinned down by a Minnesota police officer for nine months and killed in 2020 because he was a “perceived threat” to police.

Under Gov. Ralph Northam, Virginia teachers were required to participate in anti-bias training.

“If this were not a problem, nobody would be going that far to speak to it,” Tillerson-Brown said of racism in the Commonwealth’s schools.

She questions whether anyone in school administration is committed to anti-racist behavior.

“They hide behind policy. This is the policy. Slavery was legal, we know, as was segregation, as was America apartheid.”

Just because it is a policy, does not mean the policy is morally right.

“To reason with them is just impossible.”

Calloway has spoken at several Augusta County School Board meetings and requested the board create a policy to handle racism.

“I will probably be there until my hair turns gray,” Calloway said of defending her children.

Tillerson-Brown said the different stories from Augusta County parents of racism toward their children are not “isolated incidents.”

“This speaks to a larger racist culture.”

‘We can work on this’: Community members allege racism in Augusta County Schools – Augusta Free Press

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.