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Group working to get honest conversation about racism started in Cobb County schools

The group Stronger Together says there is a problem with racism in Cobb schools that officials won't acknowledge.

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — A group in Cobb County is hoping to start an honest conversation about what they say is racism within the school system.

The group - Stronger Together - is made up of parents, students, and even some educators within the Cobb County school system.

A number of Cobb County students anonymously shared with 11Alive’s Christie Ethridge their experiences with racism at school.

Some of what they saw and heard included:

  • “A white student had sent a text saying that he was going to shoot all the N-words in the school.”
  • “Even last semester my teacher used the N-word in front of the class.”
  • “They would tell the whole class that Africa is literally the worst place in the world.”
  • “There was a racial threat that was sent out to my class using the N-word and the email address was like N-Killer and it was really bad.”
  • “I've been kind of harassed in the hallways with groups of people saying, ‘yeah sick of seeing all these black kids in class.’"

John Nwosu is a counselor at Garrett Middle School. He said he started hearing these stories when he joined Stronger Together.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise, it shouldn’t be controversial, for us to say that racism exists in Cobb,” he said. “But I think there's this invisible pressure to not speak on those things because you're either not supposed to talk about it, or we’re taught, ‘Those things don't happen here, it may happen somewhere else.’”

Nwosu said the reaction he usually gets from administrators and officials when he raises the issue is evasive.

“Typically the response is that ‘We’re going to look into it,’ something like that,” he said. “So it either takes a long time, or things happen and we're not communicated with. There's a disconnect in communication.”

Despite that lack of action, he said he still tries to make students feel like they’re not being heard.

“So when I’m talking to the kids, what I try to do if nothing else, even if I feel powerless to really immediately change things, is just make them feel like they’re not crazy,” he said.

Another Stronger Together member, Brandell Allison, had kids at Garrett Middle – she used the option of school choice to place them in a school out of district so they'd be more academically challenged. But when her child was singled out with other black girls and accused of cursing to a white student, she said she had to make a choice.

“Am I going to sacrifice my children emotionally and socially to be academically challenged?” she said.

In 2017, a North Cobb High School student posted a racist rant on Snapchat that made its way around the school.

The same year, Pebblebrook High School students arrived to find racist graffiti.

Jillian Ford – an associate professor of social studies at Kennesaw State – says it’s hard to notice meaningful progress in the two years since.

“So many things have happened since then that that seems like a long time ago,” she said of the 2017 incidents. “So many racist incidents since then that it's like, ‘Oh yeah remember, how I first got involved?’”

She's also part of Stronger Together and hopes communities are moving to a place where they can have these honest conversations.

“There’s no time for fighting,” Ford said. “We are coming to talk about serious harm that's being done to our kids on a daily basis.”

Allison said the first step she wants to see is simply the school system realizing it has a problem.

“Acknowledgement. Because that's the first thing before we can even work on a problem. You have to acknowledge there is a problem,” she said.

The Cobb County School District provided a statement, which said in part:

“We want to know when anyone has a bad experience in one of our schools and we want to hear and listen to how our schools can better serve our community... Our staff has been trained to treat each student as an individual, and we are proud that our students, staff, and community are among the most welcoming in the nation."


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