Marcus Franklin, AP, March 15, 2006
NEW YORK — Autum Ashante, a 7-year-old black girl, caused a stir at two Westchester County schools by reciting a poem she wrote about white nationalism. But her words — and her actions — are earning high praise from some city leaders.
On Tuesday, Autum stood on the steps of City Hall with Councilman Charles Barron, who denounced what he described as attacks and harassment since Autum spoke last month at a middle and high school. Later, she appeared on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show.
At issue is a poem Autum delivered on Feb. 28 titled “White Nationalism Put U In Bondage,” in which Christopher Columbus and Charles Darwin are likened to pirates and vampires. The young girl, who is homeschooled, also asked students to stand and recite the “Black Child’s Pledge,” an oath of responsibility and black pride.
When white students at the Peekskill High School assembly stood with black students, Autum told them to sit down, the school district’s superintendent said. The Peekskill City School District then sent recorded messages to parents of its 3,000 students apologizing to anyone who was offended.
Mel Bolden, a Peekskill high school music teacher and black culture club adviser, invited Autum to speak, a school official said.
Barron said he couldn’t understand why anyone would be offended. He characterized the girl as “brave” and “outspoken in telling the truth,” and he defended her 162-word poem, praising it as evoking “peace, power and pride about her heritage.”
Judith Johnson, the Peekskill superintendent, said Autum isn’t banned from speaking in the district again.
“Never, ever would we do something like that,” Johnson said. “But telling white kids you can’t recite the pledge and to sit down — in a multicultural district you can’t do that.”
The school district is about 40 percent black, 30 percent Hispanic and the rest mostly white and Asian. Johnson said “outsiders have interjected race into a town where it’s not an issue.”
On the steps of City Hall, Autum recited the poem and pledge, drawing yelps of “Tell it!” and “Hallelujah!” from Barron’s staff and others in the small crowd.