Friday, October 7th was not a regular day at AHS. As racial tensions were high throughout the state and the country due to the Black Lives Matter campaign, a group of students decided to join the movement by hosting a sit-in. What started out as only 30 students gathered during lunch, grew to around 150 students by the end of the day.
Although speculations of a protest were made weeks prior to it, there were no official signs of one happening until A Lunch of that Friday. Participants gathered between the 3300 and 4300 hallway right after the bell to begin the sit-in. Because something similar had played out at North Springs High School the week prior that was ultimately contained, the administration felt that they had to carry out the same policy and permit students to do a sit-in, but they still had their doubts.
“I had to make a decision. As in if I was going to allow it to occur or if I was going to say ‘Go to class, if you don’t, it’s insubordination’. Again, it was a very hard decision and it weighed heavily on me throughout the whole week. It’s not something that was just instant. I had been pondering all week long as to what I needed to do for our school,” Dr. Shannon Kersey, AHS Principal, said.
As students started hearing about it, more and more participants appeared. The sit-in started as a silent protest, but after some time, students decided to speak their mind, creating an open environment for expression. Through it all, staff and administration maintained a close eye, making sure the protest stayed contained.
“Our main priority throughout the whole time was to make sure that our students were safe. We had to do our best to ensure that it did not impede on instructional time for students who wanted to learn, and I feel like that goal was achieved,” Dr. Kersey said.
Dr. Kersey took this opportunity to improve communications between students and staff. Seeing that the movement impacted a number of students, the administration decided to create a set of questions in which students who had concerns about race and safety could openly communicate with the administration and work with them to improve the school in the long run. Over half of the students involved in the protest signed up to answer them.
“I wanted this to be an opportunity to build relationships between students and administrators and open up dialogue. Not a time to shut it down and create a gap. It was a delicate situation definitely. Ultimately, though, everything ended up being okay, thankfully,” Dr. Kersey said.
The protest was meant to create an open and safe environment for students to react to what had been happening in Atlanta and around the country, but the sit-in and its testimonies covered subjects and topics beyond Black Lives Matter.
“The Black Lives Matter movement certainly does affect our school, and has connections to some students in our building, but I think it was even more than that for some students. There are racial tensions at Alpharetta High School, there are political tensions in the school and I think this was an opportunity that sparked an opening for some of our students who are feeling that way and who are wanting to make a change to talk about it,” Dr. Kersey said.
The participants in the protest were not only limited to African Americans. All ethnicities and races were welcomed in the sit-in and were encouraged to take part in the movement. The openness and honesty of the protest itself moved many students and allowed for a support system to develop from it.
“It really was a purifying, cleansing experience. There were people praying, and speaking, and listening, and crying. All different types and shades and races of people gathered and ready to embrace change. It was people getting together to find love for themselves and for other people and to really find peace and safety within each other,” Maya Nnaeto, AHS Senior, said.
The connections made and the sense of community obtained from the sit-in was a big achievement for the AHS community, but the way it was obtained could have been planned better. The protest itself was a very spontaneous occurrence, one which caused disruption in the balance of the school day, and had negative impacts on teachers’ planning of the day.
“I feel like the time and place where the protest happened wasn’t the best. It was definitely a good idea, and maybe if it had been executed [at] a different time it would have been even better, but the time that they did it, and the way that they did it wasn’t well planned and should not have been in such a spur of the moment,” Qhira Bonds, President of the Black Student Union, said.
The protest itself raised an issue about how situations such as these should be handled in future times. The impromptu event increased the absences and tardies in classes and forced some teachers to reschedule their lesson plans. Since the hallways were blocked in order to maintain stability in the protest, many students did feel nervous, and the tensions throughout the school were high. The administrative team feels that these circumstances could have been handled better if more communication were present between students and faculty.
“Although I allowed it, I don’t promote it. That is not how I want students to address issues. I don’t want there to be impromptu planned groups of students who are in violation of AHS rules. I can’t condone that. I wish that we had already had an open relationship in which students could have come to us and we could have planned something not during class time because that’s really the hardest part. It ended up affecting the progression of the day,” Dr. Kersey said.
Regardless of what could have been, the Black Lives Matter protest was, for the most part, a success at AHS. It created stronger ties between students and sparked an opportunity for improvement and change for students and the school.
“I met people with different walks of life that I would have never met If I hadn’t joined it. I talked to people with which I had problems with throughout the past years. We sat down together and had a chance to talk through our problems, decided that regardless of what happened prior, we were from that moment on a family, and in every black community, we have our issues. There’s self-hating, there’s colorism, and there are tons of conflicts within our own community. We had the chance to sit down and talk about it. We decided we needed a change,” Nnaeto said.
Photo Credits: Maia Gibson, Photo Editor