SACRAMENTO – While students at St. Francis High School say a classmate in blackface is par for the course, they’re tired of such behavior going unchecked. A group of students from the local all-girl Catholic school rallied on Wednesday to bring awareness to what they say is a history of racism at the school.
After a Snapchat photo surfaced recently of a St. Francis student mocking a Black classmate with a dark-skinned filter over her face, students marched from East Portal Park to the school. They, and a Black Parents Group, demanded that the offending student be expelled and that racial bullying be added to the school’s zero-tolerance policy.
“This is not the first time this has happened at St. Francis and it is not being addressed,” said student Zoraya Phillips.
“This incident and many other similar incidents have caused physical and mental trauma to students. Many are sick and worried. They’re depressed. They are not focused. They’re not eating because of these events and how much they hurt the students. No Black girl should be worried or threatened because they have beautiful, melanin skin,” Ms. Phillips continued.
Current Black Student Union president Kendra Corbray said she collected statements from past Black student leaders that reaffirmed a pattern of behavior from administrators.
“St. Francis worries that if Black students have a space to congregate, we’ll all realize that we’ve all been wronged,” Ms. Corbray said.
She spoke of “the degrading experiences one has to go through at St. Francis.” Experiences she added, that would never have happened if they were “blonde, blue eyed and had a wallet and the influence that affirms those features.”
There is power in numbers. A number of community activists and advocates joined the St. Francis students, showing administrators at the school that they’re watching and that the young girls don’t stand alone in their fight for change. Among them was Sequette Clark, the mother of Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento police officers in 2018.
“St. Francis, it is your obligation to protect your Black students,” Ms. Clark said through a megaphone.
“That is not a choice,” she continued. “It is your responsibility and obligation to protect the minds and futures of the Black girls who attend your school.”
Ms. Clark, who now runs a foundation in her son’s name, also gave the young rally organizers a boost of confidence, tapered with some real talk.
“I hate what has happened, but I am glad that it happened in your senior year. I am glad that you have tasted the real world. It is the family and school’s obligation to prepare you for our society and our world and this is it unfortunately. Unfortunately you will deal with situations like this in your life, in college and beyond. That’s the sad truth, but here’s the hope and here’s the optimism — look at yourself. You are our future. You alone hold the power to create change. You alone have stepped up and said no… You have a following, use it to your advantage, don’t sit dormant.”
District 3 City Councilmember Jeff Harris also addressed the assembled crowd.
“This campus can do better, must do better and it will be, as long as it has a student body like yourself,” Harris said. “I’ve seen this throughout my entire life, that one of the strongest groups of people in America are Black women. They show up and they get it done.”
The latest incident is just the tip of the iceberg, rally participants said. Students say the N-word is frequently used on campus and that other racist attitudes are voiced freely. Families are also concerned about disparities in school suspensions and the failure to hire faculty of color. They’ve called administrators “complacent” and want transparency and accountability.
Last summer, Black students at St. Francis also spoke out about their experiences at the school. In response, the school adopted a Racial Conciliation Plan that it was to implement, but students and parents say little has changed.
“Empty attempts to reconcile will not be acknowledged. St. Francis, get it together,” Ms. Corbray said.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer