Your story is the greatest legacy that you will leave to your friends. It’s the longest lasting legacy you will leave to your heirs. — Steve Saint
The last few weeks have been heavy. My region has been hit with immense tragedy with the shooting at Richneck Elementary School and as I’ve attempted to process the enormous failures that occurred that resulted in the outcomes of the situation, I can’t help but parallel what happened to my family with them.
I know it may seem that the situations are two different echelons of violence but let’s dissect. Abigail Zwerner, a hero, attempted to get assistance from school administration for the child who eventually put a bullet in her chest. Now, we move on to what happened to my daughter Celeste. The teacher who initially had my daughter’s assailant in their class went to school administration and told them that the child who repeatedly raped my daughter was such a behavioral problem that she feared that she would endanger her pregnancy. The school administration then moved the child into my daughter’s class with no additional supports. This then opened to door for my daughter’s nightmare to continue and for us to be here — fighting for resolution.
Watching MSNBC last night, there was a statement that really hit home — it doesn’t take white skin to perpetuate white supremacy. You look at what happened to Tyre Nichols and see that the police officers that beat this man to death diminished his worth — they bludgeoned him to death because they didn’t see him as human. When Virginia made national headlines because of the sexual assaults that happened in Loudoun and in Fairfax, national news outlets fell all over themselves in order to bring awareness to what happened. When the shooting at Richneck Elementary dominated (and still dominates) the news cycle, the superintendent was fired, the assistant principal quit, and news vans parked themselves on the small street that leads to the school. What about Celeste? Where is her national bullhorn?
Why hasn’t Jeffrey Smith lost his job because of what happened to my daughter? Wait — I can answer that question on my own — all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk. The city of Hampton has a school board that is black with the exception of one member. But what is true? Rick Mason, chair of the school board, was willing to file a false police report to obtain a restraining order, with the assurance that Anton Bell, Hampton Commonwealth Attorney is a gutless coward who has personal alliances with him. When he admitted that he lied and the judge threw the case out because of it, when I called him out because of it in a defamation case, his attorney put up a “So what” defense. Rick Mason, Ann Stephens Cherry and the remaining members devoid of morals (with the exception of two members of the board who I actually respect) devalued my daughter. They looked at her and said “So what she was raped on school property?”
Jason Samuels while campaigning for reelection, stated that Hampton City Schools was absolved from responsibility for what happened to my daughter because the student who raped my daughter was not charged by the Commonwealth Attorney, That’s an interesting stance — the six year old who shot Abigail Zwerner was also not charged by the Newport News Commonwealth Attorney but that doesn’t mean that there is not a bullet in her chest. Donnie Tuck, when confronted about the city’s response by me at a city council meeting, stated “We don’t prosecute nine year olds” yet when one of the school buildings in our district was vandalized by several students from age 7 and up, these children were charged. THESE MEN HAVE DAUGHTERS. For Tina Banks Gray to care about my child, my daughter would literally have to be set on fire. These are the leaders of our city — a set of individuals so in love with the sound of their own voices and protecting their own bullshit establishment that they would toss a young, brilliant black girl in the garbage. It makes me angry, but also makes me incredibly sad.
Some days I wish I could change Celeste’s complexion to fair, dye her hair blonde and change her name to Kate. Maybe then, those in positions of influence would care about her and do what’s necessary to give her the tools she’ll need to find peace beyond her trauma. I feel guilty for feeling like this, but I know that my frame of mind is valid. I think of the scene in the movie “A Time to Kill” when Matthew McConaughey described the brutal sexual assault of a young black girl to a jury and then through tears said, “Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white.”
While angry, I will never give up this fight. As I fight for remedy for my child, I am also fighting for people to change their prejudices and always fight for what’s just, fair and humane. I’ll never give up on my daughter and those like her. The marathon continues.
For more information on my daughter’s plight, please visit www.8forCeleste.org