Wednesday after the hypocrite-in-chief Ann Stephens Cherry ousted me from the school board meeting, I stepped out of Jones Fundamental Middle School and had an ugly cry. I mean, an UGLY CRY, held up on crutches by friends to an audience of police officers that didn’t have the heart to interrupt me. I felt a pain bubble up in my chest that I’ve rarely ever felt: A feeling of helplessness and defeat — not because I was booted from the meeting, but because I realized that there was nothing I could do to protect my children at school. They are at the mercy of this panel of eight individuals who are all talk and no work.
So many things ran through my mind during those moments. What if I had unlimited money? What if I didn’t have a special needs child? What if I could rewind the clock for four years and never moved back to Hampton? What if I’d just sold this house and found somewhere to go where Celeste’s rapist would have never found us? At each juncture and thought, it made me more and more worn down and created a waterfall of tears and a weakness that removed my strength. The armor that I’d built over the last almost 42 years from a series of my own personal traumas was destroyed because I knew that I could not protect my kids. At that time, I was fully aware that from the moment that my two children who are left in Hampton City Schools leave my home and enter the places where they are supposed to learn, I couldn’t influence the most basic protections to keep them from harm and that’s the most debilitating thing I have ever felt in my life.
I grew up in Hampton City Schools. On the surface, I think I came out with a relatively decent education. But then, what’s the real truth? The truth is that I was terrorized most of the years I was a student of HCS. School administrators allowed others to literally try to take me out with their words and actions. Personally, I had a lot going on. My mother was slowly dying. My family dynamic universally was kind of screwy. But I would go from chaos to even more chaos because administrators then didn’t care about bullying. It was considered a rite of passage. Then when Columbine happened, that changed. When white kids were busting into school with automatic weapons, all of a sudden it was time to respond to bullying. No different than the crack epidemic in comparison to the opioid epidemic, America didn’t give a shit until it hit the doorstep of White America. Now there are bullying taskforces and hotlines — we argue with each other over what is actually bullying or childhood exuberance. And this all because two kids against the backdrop of their suburban Colorado backdrop decided they’d had enough. That’s a lot to process.
So we move now into the MeToo movement. Tarana Burke set off a firestorm by giving women permission to own their voices and unite on a subject of familiarity. By saying, “This is done,” women across the world changed their reality and transformed everything that they’d known prior and everything they’d know in the future. But again — what’s the truth? Burke’s hashtag was only given validity when white women (well, a white woman — Alyssa Milano) made it go viral. Why is it that the sole voice of a Black woman in her truth can’t set the stage for real change unless validated by a white counterpart? I don’t understand how as a people, we can’t unite around a principle unless it’s carried on the backs of people of color and pushed across the finish line by white people.
So here I am — bowed over from the weights on my neck. My daughter was repeatedly raped in her elementary school bathroom by another student. Both students are black. The Commonwealth Attorney’s office, led by a Black man, Anton Bell, didn’t even have enough respect for my family to make a phone call and ask for our input. He didn’t even care to see my nine-year-old daughter as a PERSON. When a detective, after my daughter’s police report sat untouched for SIX MONTHS had a moment of conscience to say, “No, this is WRONG,” the Commonwealth Attorney was SO MUCH IN HIS EGO that he dismissed a detective’s statement of having probable cause. A man who is supposed to have a moral compass condoned my daughter’s rape by his inaction.
Then, the eight members of the school board did the same thing. I had a face-to-face conversation with Ann Stephens Cherry, the chair of the school board, (see image of the School Board, first picture, red blouse, fake smile, horrible wig) the DAY I found out about my daughter’s assaults. She told me POINT BLANK that as soon as she finished talking to me, she would be contacting Dr. Jeffrey Smith, the superintendent of Hampton City Schools. But what’s the truth? The truth is that Ann Stephens Cherry, Dr. Smith, and the rest of the ENTIRE SCHOOL BOARD have spent the last nineteen months trying to avoid me. They have done everything they could to disenfranchise my daughter and to condone what happened to her ON SCHOOL PROPERTY. Let me repeat that — MY DAUGHTER WAS REPEATEDLY RAPED ON SCHOOL PROPERTY. She was raped in the bathroom of a school that they spent $30,000 to rename. THIRTY THOUSAND DOLLARS TO RENAME A SCHOOL. My initial ask was for $120/month to cover therapy costs. They’ve done nothing. Hampton City Schools has not paid a DIME, They’ve doubled down on their hypocrisy. Then, when I brought it to them on their terms, they admonished me for speaking in a public forum, which we all know is because they don’t want the general public to know that little girls are being raped in the bathrooms of their elementary schools. Then, after Ann Stephens Cherry spent THREE HOURS making passive-aggressive statements directed towards me and interrupting me over things that she in her hypocrisy was doing herself, I snapped. And that’s when the tears fell. That’s when my body grieved after being tired of being beaten down by the people who are supposed to be there to aid.
You can find the details of that encounter here: Banned from the Board: Board Bullies Try to Silence Rape
It’s been a few days. I’ve had a chance to reflect. See, I’m able to look at the Hampton School Board and see them for what they really are — a hot, miserable bucket of trash that has no purpose but to congratulate themselves for other people’s work and talk more than they should. What disappoints me the most is this: the Hampton School Board is comprised of people of color. That means that EACH ONE OF THEM would rather see a nine-year-old harmed than do what is in good conscience. I guarantee if my daughter had not been a little black girl named Celeste but a little white girl named Cindy, they would have been falling over themselves to operate effectively. I wouldn’t have had to ask for anything — the rush to take proactive measures would have happened at light speed. The community would have DEMANDED it. But again, no matter how intelligent, pretty, inspiring, and capable my daughter is, she will never be white enough to get people to automatically take that leap of faith and advocate on her behalf. The Hampton School Board is colorstruck — they validate those who don’t look like them and who they assume will give them support and importance down the line. Unfortunately, families like mine just don’t fit that narrative.
I want to see a time where people of color can unite on things not because we are looking for support from each other JUST because we are Black, but because if we unite around something sound, just and righteous, we can make great gains. I want to see people who look like me successful, but I also want to see people who look like me not do everything in their power to screw me over. Dr. Smith doesn’t give a damn about anything but his headlines and his ability to tout successes that aren’t his to have — successes that the people who carry Hampton City Schools — the students and the teachers — are the real MVPs. Ann Stephens Cherry doesn’t care about anything but her ability to be seen as the supreme ruler of HCS — she doesn’t even give her peers fair opportunities to lead, much less anyone else. And then she makes it a point to be abusive in her language to those who she feels she is superior to rather than treat them as equals worthy of her service AS AN ELECTED OFFICIAL. Dr. Mason is a CLOWN (I’d take a shot at his bow tie if it wasn’t autism-related, as my oldest is on the spectrum but I am SO SICK of seeing him smile like he’s running a con… which nine times out of ten, he probably is) — he only cares, again, about taking credit that isn’t his and smiling in people’s faces like he’s always campaigning and telling the public half-truths. The rest of the board? Until they prove otherwise, are USELESS. Nanci Reaves, the school board general counsel? A rude, decrepit, useless mess who couldn’t follow procedures and protocol if you scraped them on her scalp. But again, I’m only one parent,…with a nine-year-old rape survivor…and a private school bill…and a low gas tank, both literally and figuratively.
TRAUMA IS LONGITUDINAL. #8forCeleste