The great poet Maya Angelou once said, “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.” During a tough girls soccer game mid-season, a player from a Frederick County Public School used a racial slur against a player on the Frederick High School team. More recently on November 1st, a volleyball player from the same school repeatedly used a different racial slur to Frederick cheerleaders. The fact that these two incidents happened within 2 months of each other is horrendous, and a poor reflection of the school system. These incidents were the ones reported, with many of our students being able to describe at least one instance of racial abuse they’ve encountered in the county. Although seemingly small moments in the grand scheme of this school system’s and the individual players’ history, they will forever leave an impact on our school.
Words are a funny thing. They can help build cities or they can tear them down. The players, much like other members of our county, probably don’t understand the power of their words, coming from a place of privilege. This leads to preconceived stereotypes and harmful incidents, like those that have occurred. According to the news, rumors, and social media Frederick High is a violent school filled with kids with no future. What is not public knowledge is the resilience of our school, and our community. According to FCPS statistics, 72.2% of the members of our community are a racial minority, 44.4% of kids in our school receive free or reduced lunch, 13.9% of our students are English Learners, and 9.6% of our student body have special needs. The adversities that come with these statistics are often not mentioned, but they are powerful when considered. Our students have to translate bills, papers, conversations, and more for their parents. They have to take care of siblings, which often requires them to miss school or extracurriculars like soccer. Most of our students have jobs, not just to save for the new iPhone, but to contribute to their families’ incomes. They go hungry during the weekends when the school is not there to provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Members of our student body are currently struggling with homelessness, and instead of worrying about their homecoming dress, they worry about where they’re going to sleep that night. Our students have to watch how they express themselves to the public to avoid being labeled, and still face discrimination everywhere they go.
Despite this adversity, our students have thrived. In 2017 alone, we had state championships in girls’ basketball and girl’s outdoor track and field. In the fall, one of our golfers and the boys’ soccer team were victorious in the CMC Championship. Two years ago, our girl’s 4 X 200m outdoor track team won nationals! Individually, our athletes also thrive with almost Olympic qualifying times in track, scoring 47 points in state basketball finals, winning states individually, and committing to prestigious universities. Academically, around 90% of our students attend community college, four-year college or business or technical schools despite facing these odds. Our SAT scores are consistently better than Maryland’s and the country’s averages. Socially, we do not have large cliques who dominate the school. We are accepting, and you can sit with academically gifted students one day, and members of the drama department the next. Our staff inspires us as well, through single handedly organizing a Model United Nations conference or developing a whole new LYNX program.
The student who was insulted during the girls’ soccer game is an excellent example of the spirit of Frederick High School. She is bilingual and translates for her parents, works another job on top of school and sports, takes care of her siblings, and is planning on going to community college. Statistically about 46% of the girls on the soccer team are at least bilingual, and one player even speaks five languages.
When insults are hurled about our students’ ethnicities, stereotypes and prejudice are perpetrated. Words seem harmless until it’s the 1000th time you’ve been called something, and you start to believe you can only achieve what the stereotypes say. This attitude leads to institutional racism in jobs, schools, and public places. This attitude also leads to African-Americans and Hispanics making up 56% of incarcerated people while only being 32% of the nation’s population according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It causes police brutality, discrimination in the workplace, and racially motivated crimes.
Frederick High is a diverse and unique school. It brings together people of all backgrounds and offers them support and opportunities for the future. The amazing teachers and coaches provide a safe space for individuals to nurture their talents and achieve beyond what they can dream. Please learn from these experiences that Frederick High School is not the punch line to a joke, but a multi-layered school that beats the odds every day. We need community discussions in schools and in homes about privilege, and how to utilize it. We need support from all schools and all officials to recognize and teach lessons about these incidents when they occur. We need everyone to look for more information from the internet, libraries, conversations with students, and other resources to help dispel the stigma surrounding the school instead of relying on hearsay. Please stop the cycle of using racist words and then giving insincere apologies, if one is given at all. Please talk to our community and understand the struggles we face every day before spreading unfounded negativity. I am not telling you these struggles for your pity, I am sharing them to demonstrate the respect we deserve. Change starts with one step and by deciding not to use that racial slur or condoning it, a leap will be taken.