Students Tell of Black-Brown Tensions at Newark School Ahead of Town Hall Meeting
Steve Strunsky, NJ.com, February 7, 2023
The Newark School of Global Studies is a public high school that opened two years ago as what the district described as “a place where a diverse student body converges with no borders.”
But the convergence of Black students and a largely Latino student body and staff have been followed by racial tensions that are transcending the school’s borders, with teens and adults airing their concerns at Board of Education meetings and a spate of related student transfers from the school, not all of them voluntary.
“The ill-treatment of Black students and our issues in Newark’s School of Global Studies, Black students’ issues, are being pushed aside as racial tensions continue to happen with the students,” Karlene Grant, a member of the school’s Black Student Union, told the Newark Board of Education at the board’s Jan. 26 meeting.
Newark’s total population of 307,000 is 48.2% Black and 36.8% Latino, or Hispanic, according to July 2021 Census estimates. But at the School of Global Studies, located in a predominantly Latino neighborhood in the city’s Central Ward, Latino students outnumber their Black counterparts 2-1, according to 2021 state Department of Education data, which put the percentages at 64% and 31.6% respectively, with non-Hispanic white students making up most of the remainder.
And despite the school’s founding principles of diversity and diplomacy, simmering racial tensions began to boil over this fall, prompting students, parents and others to speak out at board meetings last fall, particularly after they felt their concerns were not being addressed at the school level.
In addition to the sensitive nature of racial/ethnic relations, the overlapping roles of some people have complicated the situation. For example, Board President Dawn Haynes’ daughter, Akela, a high school junior, was transferred out of Global Studies last November after a physical altercation with a Latino classmate.
Two months later, a male Latino friend of the student involved in the altercation was transferred out of Global Studies following a related encounter with Haynes and her daughter on Jan. 3 outside the school on the night of a Black Student Union meeting.
The most dramatic public comments during the meeting came from students.
“How would you feel every morning if you wake up and remember that you’re going to a place that doesn’t want you there?” Samiyah Dunham told board members.
“There is not enough Black staff, and some of the Black staff that are there don’t want to show what it’s like to be Black,” Dunham told the board. “They are very ignorant toward Black people and their problems. The administration does not care about the issues that are clearly displayed in the environment. When in the school of Global Studies, it makes me not want to do my work the way I used to.”
Others accused school officials of trying to manipulate them into keeping silent about the situation with a pizza party on Dec. 9, two days after a Black Student Union meeting when they raised concerns. “You should feel ashamed by the fact that you’ve exploited these children and allowed their oppressors to get away with inflicting abuse on them completely unscathed,” said student David M. Allen.
But Haynes apologized to Allen and other students, insisting that was never the intent. In an interview later, Haynes said she was eager for next week’s town hall and a candid discussion of the issues that would set the community back on a unified footing.
“I would encourage everybody to come,” Haynes said. “At the end of the day, this city is a Black and brown city.”