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‘We are tired.’ Black students rally at FUSD meeting with emotional testimony of racial harassment

Soerath Hok/KVPR
Black Student Union members from Bullard and Edison High Schools, May 18, 2022.

About a dozen students stood up to address the Fresno Unified School Board, many speaking publicly for the first time.

Students from the Black Student Unions at both Bullard and Edison High Schools attended Wednesday’s Fresno Unified School Board meeting to speak out about racism at school and demand the district do more to make them feel safe.

Two weeks after a social media photo surfaced of a Bullard High School student wearing what resembled a KKK hood, Black students in Fresno Unified say racial harassment intensified on campuses and became worse after the recent racially-motivated hate crimes in Buffalo, New York and Orange County.

In his opening remarks, FUSD Superintendent Bob Nelson acknowledged the impact of the mass shootings on students and staff. “We know these incidents resurface trauma and resurface [the] pain of social injustice. They add to an already hurt spirit. Those senseless acts come shortly after we've had several weeks of our own here at Fresno Unified,” Nelson said.

Soreath Hok/KVPR
BSU students, parents and community supporters filled the seats at Wednesday's FUSD Board meeting

Hundreds of students marched in a protest May 6, following the circulation of the Bullard photo. But days after the rally, students found other active social media accounts that posted photos of Black students taken without their consent, which were labeled with racist words and imagery.

Tatiana Asberry, president of the BSU at Bullard, was one of the students who led the rally. She says she’s become a target for threats and bullying. “There was someone in the crowd that said that they specifically wanted to kick me in the head,” she said.

Asberry spoke at Wednesday night’s meeting with a group of her peers and teachers standing behind her. “As soon as this picture [has] been around my whole world, it felt like it turned upside down,” she said.

Asberry detailed what she said she felt was a lack of action and understanding from school administrators in how to handle the emotional impact of the photo on students. In tears, Asberry struggled to speak. “It's shocking to understand the fact that people actually hate me just because of my skin color.”

Soreath Hok/KVPR
Trustees listen to Bullard BSU president, Tatiana Asberry as fellow students stand with her, May 18, 2022.

Jon’ynae Jackson, a BSU member from Edison High School was one of the first students to speak at the podium. “We are tired. As high school students, we're distraught, upset and angered at what is going on in our school district,” she said. “We, as 17 and 18-year-olds in 2022 should not be fighting the same battles as our grandparents,” said Jackson as audience members reacted with words of encouragement.

Renatta Carter-Ford was in the audience. She and her husband were there in support of their daughter, a senior at Edison High School and one of the scheduled speakers. “I'm just proud of these kids. I'm proud that they're taking actions themselves and they're demanding accountability,” she said.

The district has taken action on one of the Bullard BSU student requests, to expand the Race and Social Justice student advisory board to include a student governing board at each of the comprehensive high schools. The superintendent says those boards will assess the enforcement of anti-racist policies. The district says it’s also taking disciplinary action to “the fullest extent” for what it calls “culturally destructive behavior.”

Board president Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas said the district is committed to making students feel safe. “We're doing a lot. We can always do more. I think establishing some of the recommendations that our students have come with is definitely a good next step.”

The district confirms it has since taken action against the student involved in the Bullard KKK photo. But Superintendent Bob Nelson said that those details are limited due to privacy laws. “We can't always share specific details of disciplinary action taken with students or staff but need to be able to assure you that we are holding true to that commitment already.”