By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer

Area activist Berry Accius stands with 10th grader Jada Lawson outside of C.K. McClatchy High School. He says students throughout the district fear the real threat of retaliation for speaking out against the racism and hatred that is often aimed at them. Robert Maryland, OBSERVER

Racial slurs. Swastikas. A water fountain marked as “Whites Only.”

The writing is on the wall, literally, and local groups are calling out what they say is a “culture of racism” within the Sacramento City Unified School District.

The Greater Sacramento NAACP, Voice of the Youth and the Black Youth Leadership Project leaders gathered outside C.K. McClatchy High School last Thursday, demanding accountability in continued incidents at area campuses. McClatchy is once again in the spotlight after someone wrote “Colored” and “Whites Only” above water fountains in a campus hallway.

The images evoked memories from the nation’s not-too-distant past when life played out in black and white.

Sophomore Jada Lawson said such incidents are an everyday occurrence at McClatchy.  “It’s pretty normal at school at this point,” Lawson said. “Two weeks ago I saw the ‘n-word’ with the ‘er’ near the boy’s locker room by PE. So it’s nothing new,” she continued. “I could report it, but they don’t do anything about it. So it’s kind of like me wasting my breath.”

The teen would rather go back to learning online than be subject to what’s happening at McClatchy. Her mother, Regina Rhodes wants her to stick it out and learn to face the realities of the world head on. “I told her, ‘What you see is a reflection of society at large,” Rhodes shared. “I don’t necessarily want her to run away from that. I want to try to help her better navigate through these things, but at the same time, if she says it’s normal, I don’t want it to be normal.”

The latest incident at McClatchy came three days before racist graffiti was found at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Rancho Cordova. The n-word and swastikas, a symbol of white supremacy, were written on an exterior school wall.

SCUSD Superintendent Jose A. Aguilar has vowed to “work to confront racism in any form.”

In November 2021, the n-word was written multiple times on a wall near the parking spot of West Campus High School’s Black vice principal, Dr. Elysse Versher. At the time, Aguilar, who revealed that his own child attends the high-performing school, said he was unaware that Dr. Versher had been subject to a number of racist incidents there. Prior to that, an audio recording of a Spanish teacher using a racial slur at Kit Carson International Academy was made public.

Greater Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams says the Sacramento Police Department told her that one or more African American students were actually responsible for the latest incident at McClatchy. Mark T. Harris, a local Black attorney hired by the district to provide advice and counsel after such incidents, says a “confused” Black female student has confessed to writing the words on the wall.

If true, the activists said, it doesn’t stop them from asking for accountability. Whoever defaced the wall at West Campus has not been found. The teacher at Kit Carson was just terminated, months after the incident. It was only a matter of days before Williams got the call that an alleged perpetrator at McClatchy had been identified. Williams said the person who called her from the SacPD seemed “almost joyful” to report that their suspect was Black. She and others are questioning the lack of timeliness in the other incidents.

“I want you to put that same energy into West Campus, I want you to put that same energy into every school district that’s dealing with these issues.” Williams said. “It’s a problem. We have racism that’s rooted in this school district.”

Black students are suffering as a result, said Lorreen Pryor, who leads the Black Youth Leadership Project.

“In dealing with students day in and day out the traumas, the feelings are real, whether they know who perpetrated this or not,” Pryor said. “They still feel the consequences of that when the district releases a statement and they say that they’re going to provide support to students. I asked the student (Lawson), have you been provided any support and she says they made an announcement over the loudspeaker and told the teachers to talk to the students about it. That’s not support. That’s coddling a situation and hoping that it will go away by appeasing students,” Pryor said.

Lorreen Pryor, who leads the Black Youth Leadership Project, spoke about adverse treatment on local school campuses during last week’s press conference outside C.K. McClatchy High School. In recent times, the school, which activists call a “repeat offender,” has had White students make blackface videos and Asian students publicly question the intelligence of African Americans. Robert Maryland, OBSERVER

Pryor said school officials must “take the time out of their busy schedules” to actually acknowledge that these incidents are traumatic.

“We want real supports in place for Black students, now,” she added. “This is an ongoing problem. They may have found the perpetrators of this incident. What about the perpetrators of all the other ones? Why does she have to report something numerous times for something to be done one time? The culture here is sick.”

Lawson said paper was put up to cover the words at the water fountains. It was unclear when or if they’d actually been removed.

“We can erase all the racist rhetoric, but when the hearts are racist, the culture is racist,” said activist Berry Accius. “ You have to do a deeper cleaning.”

Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.