A racial incident in downtown Grass Valley this week — where slurs were shouted at a Nevada Union High School student as he walked down Mill Street, according to his father on Facebook — has concerned local residents, including the Nevada Union High principal, and it is being held up as a teachable moment.
“Something needs to be done in the community to enable people to step forward and help people in need and speak up when someone is out of line in order to protect others,” Kelly Rhoden, the principal of Nevada Union High School, said in a thoughtful memo on Thursday to the NU staff titled “Opportunity for Discussion/Awareness/Action.” (Sierra Foothills Report read the memo).
“We are aware as a staff that there is still hate language on campus and in our community. The best we can do is recognize it when it happens and stop it when we see and/or hear it. I believe we do this and will keep doing this in order to support our kids. This is a bigger issue and one that is occurring nationwide.”
In a live video on Facebook on Wednesday at 4:50 p.m., Rhoden explained, “Jamal Walker (the father of an NU student) tells the disturbing story of an experience his son (Imani) had earlier that evening walking down Mill Street… when a vehicle full of young men began riding alongside him and shouting racial slurs.”
Walker’s post — titled “Come and tell my son to his face that racism doesn’t exist anymore!” — has gone viral among local Facebook readers, so far generating 26,000 views, 482 “sad,” “angry,” and other responses; 484 shares; and 504 comments — and more are being generated each minute.
“What bothers me is that we have all these people who want to maintain that racism doesn’t exist anymore. This is a prime example of that being an outright fantasy,” Walker said on the video.
“For those of you who watched this happen and chose to say absolutely nothing, shame on you. We can do better people. This is not an indictment of Grass Valley. I love it here. It’s a good place full of a lot of good people. But if you want black folks to stop talking about racism, you need to get off your asses and do something when you see it going on. Stop acting like you don’t know.” He added later: “Please feel free to share this post.”
Walker’s video is a reminder of the power of social media in our towns, opening up new channels of communication that didn’t exist before — with signed responses.
A link to Walker’s post is here.
Rhoden added in her memo to the NU staff: ” I thought you might be interested in seeing it and even, if appropriate, discussing it with your students.
“There is also an informal downtown Grass Valley walk taking shape for 5 p.m. on Friday, as a way for people to show their support for this family. The Walkers will gather at the Del Oro Theatre to start. It’s not a political thing — simply a way for a community to show up to actively condemn racism and hate.” (The walk also is being discussed on Facebook).
Neither Rhoden nor the Grass Valley police department officer who was handling the case returned phone calls this afternoon. I spoke to former Grass Valley police chief John Foster, who met with Jamal Walker, and also expressed his concern about the incident, along with others at the high school.
The Facebook responses showed compassion. “Thank you for sharing your story and reminding us that we all can be a part of change,” wrote Diane Jacobson.
“Jamal.. agree with your disappointment in our behavior to not step in and condemn this behavior…let’s step up and we can do better!! 😔get up off your butts and say something folks! Condemn racism when it happens !” wrote Lindy Beatie.
” Jamal, thank you for sharing. I know how painful it is for you and your son. You’re right, too many people are in denial,” said Shawn Ryley.