Diversity, inclusion and forward progression were at the forefront of Humble ISD’s regular school board meeting Tuesday night, June 9, as boardmember Martina Lemond Dixon solicited the district to create an official diversity statement and mandate inclusion training. During the section designated to comments by individual board members, Dixon shared what she called “a very painful and personal” account of an instance when she was once pulled over by law enforcement officers en route to Atlanta and how that memory relates to today’s current events.
According to Dixon, she was six months pregnant and driving their “almost-new” Toyota 4-Runner when the incident took place. Upon pulling over, the officer came to the driver’s side window, where Dixon was seated, and asked for her license and registration. That officer went to his unit and returned, asking Dixon to exit the vehicle and go to the rear of it.
While following the commands of the officer, his partner walked over the passenger window where Dixon’s husband was seated, and as the officer stood outside the passenger window, he had his hand near his weapon.
Dixon said she was asked “menial” questions by the officer, such as “How can we afford this car?” “What do I do for a living?” “What does my husband do?” and she was never informed of the cause of being pulled over. After the questioning was completed, Dixon was able to return to her vehicle and continue her trip.
“That was 22 years ago, and I still today have to tell my children that this could happen to them, so I have to talk to them about how to handle this particular type of situation,” Dixon said. “Of course, I love all my board colleagues and I hope everyone does know that, but I do also know that they have not experienced what that feels like. But this is actually the point; the point is, I think, we need to be proactive in understanding the sensitivities of all our students, all of them.”
Dixon charged the school board and district administration to “be leaders in public education” and to “actively show support” by developing “a formal diversity statement.” According to Dixon, the district is currently working on a vision and mission statement, so it would make sense to include the verbiage within those items. Dixon also charged the district to include mandated diversity and inclusion training for all Humble ISD employees.
Other school board members shared sentiments of empathy to Dixon’s story, as well as support for her charge of an official diversity statement and employee training. According to the Texas Education Agency’s 2017-18 Texas Academic Performance Report, 70.8% of teachers in Humble ISD are white while 14.1% are African American and 12.6% are Hispanic. For comparison, graduates were composed of 41% white students, 22.4% African American students and 30.8% Hispanic students. The total district student population was 37.9% white, 20.8% African American, and 35.4% Hispanic.
Community patrons spoke to the board during the questions-and-comments segment of the meeting in which two females also brought up diversity and inclusion within Humble ISD. Nicole Smith, a parent to an incoming sixth-grader zoned for Ross Sterling Middle School, said she was concerned about the lack of diversity in the student population at the middle school campuses. According to Smith, she was looking into the transfer options within the district when she “noticed that there were 2-7% African-American students in those middle schools which appear to be the top-performing middle schools in the district.”
Smith said, “I’m concerned about that and I’m wondering why that is occurring. How are you incorporating diversity in those middle schools?”
Katlyn Block, a former Humble ISD student, echoed Smith’s concerns. “I attended Humble ISD from Kindergarten through 12th grade,” Block said, “and I am sorely disappointed by the lack of diversity in our schools; be it the racial segregation of our campuses as well as the diversity inclusion as part of our curriculum. I have a master of public health and health policy degree and I can say that the coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately killing black Americans, and the fact that there are racial inequities in all facets of society, including education, is an epidemic in and of itself.”
Block gave personal examples from her experience as a student within the district. “In fourth grade, we learned about the Comanche tribe by using the song “I Want Candy” by Aaron Carter. In eighth grade, we went outside and learned about the triangular trade routes and passed textiles, sugar and molasses back and forth, and ignored the torture and abuse of stolen Africans from their continent.
“We also had to write a journal from the perspective of a child on the Oregon Trail, but ignored those Native Americans and their strife. In ninth grade, we learned apartheid in South Africa through having paper passports that said if we were white or black. Teachers and others were supposed to question us as we entered as we showed them our paper passports. I suppose this is where we were supposed to understand systemic oppression.
“In the eleventh grade, my AP English teacher was forbidden to teach a poetry unit because we read an article on feminism that had a few curse words in it. We did not read James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Maya Angelou or Zora Neale Hurston. In social studies, we did not emphasize black historical heroes outside of MLK and Nelson Mandela, and even that was sanitized. We especially did not emphasize black female historical figures.
“The struggle for the vote did not end with the ratification of the 19th amendment as we were taught. It ended in 1965 when black women were enfranchised through the voting rights act,” she said.
After receiving a 30-second warning for time allotment, Block shared action items she would like to see the board and district to take in an effort to make things better for all students.
“My actual steps for the district to consider,” Block said, “are to abolish Patriots Day as it is steeped in white supremacy and colonial imperialism.” She also requested that all Humble ISD teachers and leadership be required to read anti-racism books.
This comes soon after a Summer Creek High School teacher was publicly ridiculed for statements posted on his personal social media account. James Gaylord, a teacher of architecture, shared on his social media page opinions and his “prediction” regarding the current riots and protests surrounding the death of Houston native, George Floyd.
“All of this riot insanity is the Left’s last desperate tactic to run [U.S. President Donald] Trump out of office,” he posted.
“They’ve tried everything else, so now they go to the racial/protest/riot/government sanctioned looting, assault and (in some cases) murder.”
Later in the post he states, “Please God, bring sanity, law and order back to our inner cities; please watch over our law enforcement, please let every looter meet tear gas and rubber bullets.”
On June 8, words from Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Fagen’s office were posted in response to backlash toward the words of Gaylord. The statement said, “The strength of Summer Creek High School and Humble ISD is our diversity. Summer Creek High School and all Humble ISD is committed to safety for all students and staff — we will not tolerate racism or injustice.
"Recently, a staff member posted a personal message on what he believed to be a personal, private social media account. It was not private. His comments do not represent SCHS or Humble ISD.”
School board member Keith Lapeze referred to Humble ISD as “a family” that must “love and support” each other. According to Lapeze, racism is taught.
“Kids are not born racist,” Lapeze said. He agreed to discuss the proposal of Dixon and explained his vision for the district to be a district that teaches the opposite of racism, which is love.
Fagen said it is their “absolute determination” that every student feels welcomed and supported in Humble ISD regardless of their circumstances.
“All of that said, that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect family,” Fagen said. “No family is perfect. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have growth and a long journey ahead, but it is a family where there is no place for hate, there is no place for injustice, there is no place for racism, there is no place for bias and we are absolutely an educational institution where every single teacher, leader and support staff works really hard to be a light.”
Dixon mentioned leading by example during her portion of the meeting.
“As leaders, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to actively live our values and demonstrate our commitment to students from every background,” Dixon said. “This is a time where each of us, despite our discomfort or differences, can work together and lead by example for our students. Solidarity at this time is key.”