With a goal of starting a sincere conversation about racism, Pickerington High School North senior Jordan Johnson said, she spent months organizing her school’s Black History Month program.
Concerns from some parents, including one who called the student-planned production “politically charged programming,” wasn't the reaction the 18-year-old had expected.
Most of the controversy surrounding the presentation was aimed at parts about policing in black communities and included a video of an officer fatally shooting a black man, Philando Castile, in Minnesota in 2016 and discussions about former 49ers quarterback Collin Kaepernick and other NFL players protesting by kneeling during the national anthem.
A standing-room-only audience filled the Pickerington school board's meeting room and spilled into the hallway March 11 to address the issue. Seven spoke — six of whom were in support of the production. They said they believe the program’s intentions have been misconstrued, especially by parents who didn’t attend one of three Feb. 28 assemblies.
“We weren’t trying to sway somebody from one side of the ballot or the other; it was entirely our experiences in black history, past and present,” Johnson told The Columbus Dispatch on March 8. “We never meant to attack anybody.
"Black history wasn’t just and isn’t just smiles and rapping and dancing,” she said then. “There are heavy things, too, that need to be presented.”
Becky Tumidolsky, 47, whose son is a freshman at Pickerington North, was the only person who spoke on the other side of the issue. Tumidolsky said her son felt uncomfortable and believed attending the program was mandatory, and that concerned her.
Assemblies always have been optional, school district officials said.
Tumidolsky said that hasn’t been communicated clearly. She created a change.org petition last week about the student presentation that had garnered at least 170 signatures by the March 11 board meeting.
“This petition is not driven by racial bias or the desire to stifle free speech,” Tumidolsky told The Dispatch last week. “But denigrating the police crosses a big line, especially in a school-wide assembly. When politics and history are conflated, it only serves to divide people.”
According to the Dispatch, Tumidolsky had not attended one of the assemblies.
Read The Columbus Dispatch's full story.