By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Activists are calling out a local principal in the wake of racism on his campus, behavior they say he has allowed to “fester.”
Voice of the Youth founder Berry Accius says West Campus High School’s principal John McMeekin has failed to support his Black Vice Principal, Dr. Elysse Versher who says she’s been called “Black b**ch, Black ni**er and Black Hitler,” by students for simply doing her job.
Dr. Versher told The OBSERVER that McMeekin, who is White, frequently overrides her enforcement of his own policies, in favor of White parents who go around her and complain to him.
Last week, Dr. Versher became the subject of several hateful actions after suspending a female student for being in violation of the school’s dress code. In addition to threats being made against the vice principal and her family online, she says two adults also came on campus last Friday in an attempt to intimidate her. Leaders say Dr. Versher reported the incidents to the local NAACP because her on-campus complaints have “fallen on deaf ears” in the past.
Accius led an on-campus rally on Nov. 16 in support of Dr. Versher. The event, staged just outside the school’s front entrance, drew attendance from past and present students, parents, local Black activists and representatives from Black community organizations. Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar was on hand and mentioned that Area 4 school board member Jamee Villa was also present. Asian participants held signs in solidarity and an unidentified White woman simply walked up and asked if she could stand with the group and was welcomed.
Absent, however, was Principal McMeekin. Accius didn’t let that go unnoticed.
“If your principal is going to be a coward, it’s time for a new principal,” Accius told the assembled crowd.
“The superintendent is here to take the fire, but where’s the principal? Being across the street, over there, it’s not helping. You were told what time we were going to start, you should be right here,” Accius continued.
His comments weren’t the only hits McMeekin took.
Former West Campus parent Linda Ligons-West says the principal allowed the n-word to remain on a wall near Dr. Versher’s parking space for far too long. Officials say the “graffiti” had been visible as early as Saturday, November 6, but it wasn’t removed until later in the school day the following Monday. The Greater Sacramento NAACP says the school told them that there were no cameras to catch the writing going up on the wall.
McMeekin sent out a message to parents about the incidents. Local NAACP President Betty Williams said he only did so because he was “pressured.”
“I was talking to Dr. Versher when [McMeekin] was on the intercom system, telling the students that he will not tolerate racism. First time ever he’s done that. Trust and believe, he was forced to do that,” Williams said.
The principal later sent out a second letter citing the amount of media attention that the school was getting as a result of the incidents. In the message, McMeekin informed parents that representatives from the Sacramento City Unified School District’s Mental Health Crisis Team would be on campus on Monday and Tuesday to “provide individual support to those who need help processing these events” and that a “school-wide process of healing” will occur, with students, families and staff members participating “on a volunteer basis.”
“The support should have been there Monday morning at 10:00 a.m., because [the n-word] was allowed to stay up the entire day,” said Ligons-West, who’s had three children graduate from West Campus. “That let the students know by their lack of action that they didn’t matter.”
Like Accius, fellow community advocate Rashid Sidqe of Lift Up Love Always, Inc., said the support that is being garnered for Dr. Versher should put the school and the district on notice about the lack of respect experienced by African American administrators and parents as well, especially those who teach their children “racist thoughts at home” and don’t “take responsibility for their actions.”
“This is about Dr. Versher. This is about the support that we want to see in the future for other administrators who are coming,” Sidqe said. “We’re delivering a message to the district, not only West Campus, but district-wide. ‘See us now and allow anything to harm our children, our parents, and those that represent the underserved, the underappreciated and the undervalued, and we are coming to your front door. We are not going to ask permission, we will not care about what time you get out, we will not care about how we inconvenienced you, we are going to show up.’ ”
Sidqe again reiterated Accius’ sentiments. “We will be here until this thing is rectified.”