Berkeley High to ‘take back the day’ after racist incident

Berkeley High students marched through the UC Berkeley campus Thursday in support of racial justice. Photo: Lance Knobel
Berkeley High students marched through the UC Berkeley campus on Nov. 5  in support of racial justice after a racist threat was left on a school computer. Photo: Lance Knobel

Berkeley High School is preparing for a special day of “communal self-affirmation” on campus Wednesday, following a racist incident on Nov. 4 and the school-wide protest that came in its wake.

BHS Principal Sam Pasarow said he is supporting Wednesday’s activities which will see a slightly modified class schedule and include two assemblies.

In a Dec. 2 email to the school community, Pasarow wrote: “I am heartened by these student-led plans to spend time together in a safe, supportive, and educational environment, rather than skipping school on December 9th.”

The choice of Wednesday for the ‘take back the day’ events is significant: the racist threat that was discovered on a school library computer on Nov. 4 said there would be a “KKK Forever public lynching on December 9.”


Wednesday’s activities are being driven by the Berkeley High Black Student Union which describe it as a day for “communal self-affirmation” for the students who were the target of the Nov. 4 hate crime.

The program includes an all-day supervised special assembly in the school’s community theater allowing students to come together with staff to address their concerns stemming from the hate crime, and to support each other as a community. Called the “BSU Sankofa Assembly,” it will also be a time for students to learn about African-American history and culture, and hear from black student and community leaders. Sankofa is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates as “Go back and get it” or “return to seek,” according to Wikipedia.

“For teachers, administrators and all of the BHS community, this is a unique opportunity for us to support a student-led activity that will allow students to come together, learn, and heal as a community,” wrote Pasarow in his email. Students require a signed permission slip from their parent or guardians for this assembly.

Although most regular classes will be in session, it will not be “business as usual” on Wednesday. Subject-specific lessons have been developed to address issues of race and racism through the lens of math, English, history, science, electives, and world languages.

“As Berkeley High’s Principal, I can’t imagine a more “teachable moment,” or a better use of instructional time,” said Pasarow.

In first period, students will watch a video message from Congresswoman Barbara Lee, in which she expresses solidarity with the students and says, “Berkeley High students are some of the most enlightened young people in the country”.

The day will end with a whole-school “Unity Assembly” in the school’s community theater (for which permission slips are not required). This will feature a Q&A session with a panel of black students, staff members and community members, dance performances, as well as a call to action to end racism from Black Student Union co-presidents, Alecia Harger and Nebeyat Zekaryas. (See the full schedule posted on the BUSD website.)

The video below, produced by the BHS Black Student Union, will be watched by all students. In the video, Harger and Zekaryas provide a framing for the day:

“We want December 9th to be remembered as a day that the whole campus celebrated our unity and demonstrated our support for each other and for the ongoing work for equity,” Pasarow said in his email letter. “If we and our students are going to create a world of greater justice and equity, we can’t forego opportunities like the one we’ll have on December 9th to work together to teach, learn and commit to moving beyond racism.”

On the same day the racial message was discovered, the student responsible for posting it was identified and apprehended. It was concluded he had been acting alone, and a police investigation determined that he had neither the intention nor the capacity to carry out the threat. At the time, Pasarow said the student would suffer serious consequences for his action, but the principal has not made public what those were.

In his Dec. 2 email Pasarow said despite being confident the threats were empty, there would be an increased security presence on campus Wednesday and the school would be coordinating with the Berkeley Police Department to ensure a safe campus.

Related:
Berkeley High students walk out of class after racist hate crime (11.05.15)
Berkeley High student linked to racist ‘screen hack’ (11.05.15)
Racist threats posted on Berkeley High library computer (11.04.15)

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