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Do Black Kids Deserve This Treatment in School?

NNPA NEWSWIRE — After the incident Pearland ISD Board of Trustees member Mikael Floyd stated, “It’s no secret that racism, whether intentional or not, has crept into the code. The administration has made it clear that they are aware of the Board’s stance that provisions which are rooted in cultural or racial inequalities must be changed, and anything less will be unacceptable in my opinion.”

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Photo of Juelz Trice’s scalp after Sharpie was used on his head by three White Pearland ISD employees

Three White Pearland ISD Employees Named in Federal Lawsuit after Humiliating 13-Year Old Black Student by Blackening His Scalp with a Sharpie

By Jeffrey L. Boney, NNPA Newswire Contributor

Laughing at the humiliation and degradation of a young and impressionable Black boy is intolerable but having that type of behavior displayed by the people directly responsible for the education and development of that young Black child is even more despicable.

Better yet, what if it was your child?

Well, one family is having to deal with the aftermath of what allegedly happened to their 13-year-old son, Juelz Trice, back on May 17th that has left the community up in arms.

The emotional, mental and physical scars that Juelz has had to overcome since the alleged incident involving three White Pearland Independent School District (ISD) employees, has left him feeling embarrassed, distraught and the subject of online bullying.

Juelz’s family recently filed a federal Civil Rights lawsuit against Pearland ISD, along with the School Discipline Clerk, Helen Day; the Assistant Principal at the time, Tony Barcelona; and a teacher, Jeanette Peterson, at the school that young Juelz attended.

According to the lawsuit, on April 16, 2019, Juelz, who is referred to as ‘J.T.’ in the federal lawsuit, was a 7th grader at Berry Miller Junior High School in Pearland, Texas. At the time of the alleged incident, Juelz had just gotten a “fade” haircut with a design line in his head. For those not familiar, a fade haircut is common and popular amongst many African American youth. Juelz’s fade haircut did not depict or represent anything violent, gang-related, obscene or otherwise offensive or inappropriate in any manner, as it relates to somehow violating the school policy that was on the books. The lawsuit continues by stating that on Wednesday, April 17, 2019, Juelz arrived at school by bus in a timely manner at about 8:20 am and immediately went to the cafeteria for breakfast. Tony Barcelona, who was the Assistant Principal at the time, and who is a White male, approached Juelz and told him to go to the office because he was allegedly “out of dress code” according to the school’s policy.

Juelz had never been informed that he had been “out of dress code” before, according to the lawsuit, so he did as he was told and went to the office. He waited for approximately twenty minutes before Assistant Principal Barcelona finally showed up. According to the lawsuit, Assistant Principal Barcelona further instructed Juelz to go to the office of Discipline Clerk Helen Day, who is a White female.

For the record, a discipline clerk in Pearland ISD is, as the title suggests, is stated as a person who is supposedly knowledgeable about the discipline policies in Pearland ISD and who is charged with their enforcement, including hairstyles in the dress code.

The lawsuit continues to describe what happened next. According to the lawsuit, Juelz walked into Discipline Clerk Day’s office, where she showed him a copy of the Pearland ISD dress code and told him that he was in violation of the dress code regarding hairstyles. After a short while, Assistant Principal Barcelona came to Discipline Clerk Day’s office to address the situation.

In the presence of Discipline Clerk Day, Assistant Principal Barcelona informed Juelz that he would receive In-School Suspension as a form of punishment for an indeterminate length of time. For the record, In-School Suspension requires that a student stay in one room all school day, where they cannot go to classes, thereby, straining their academic success. In addition to that, any school discipline received by a student can affect their extracurricular activity participation, to which Juelz, who is an active track participant, would have been affected.

Assistant Principal Barcelona gave Juelz another option, however, which was to have the fade haircut line design he had on his scalp immediately colored with a permanent marker, otherwise known as a Sharpie pen.

According to the lawsuit, in Juelz’s mind, this was intended to somehow cover up the line design. The lawsuit claims that neither Assistant Principal Barcelona, nor Discipline Clerk Day, informed Juelz that he could appeal the proposed suspension, appeal the potential scalp coloring or have a meeting or hearing about the matter to resolve the issue. The lawsuit also states that Juelz was not informed that he could contact his parents for their advice on the matter.

According to Juelz’s parents – Ms. Washington and Mr. Trice – no one made any attempt to contact either of them, although their phone numbers were on file and readily accessible. The lawsuit also states that no hearings or meetings were ever proposed or set up by any Pearland ISD employee to address the matter.

As Juelz had never been in trouble before, and because he did not want to be suspended or get in trouble with his parents by having a first-time suspension appear on his school record and possibly be removed from the track program, he made the decision, under great duress, to immediately choose coloring his scalp with the Sharpie as the best course of action to take.

After this forced decision, it was then, according to the lawsuit, that Discipline Clerk Day handed Juelz a jet-black Sharpie permanent marker in full view of Assistant Principal Barcelona.

Juelz claims in the lawsuit that after a few minutes, with Assistant Principal Barcelona overseeing, Discipline Clerk Day took the jet-black Sharpie from him and started coloring his scalp without his consent. The lawsuit goes on to say that as Discipline Clerk Day was blackening Juelz’s scalp, a schoolteacher, Jeanette Peterson, who is also White, just so happened to be passing by the office, and was asked to continue blackening Juelz’s scalp with the Sharpie without his consent. Peterson agreed and continued on with the humiliation of young Juelz.

One of the most troubling parts of the lawsuit, is where it states at times during the coloring of Juelz’s scalp, that Assistant Principal Barcelona, Discipline Clerk Day and schoolteacher Peterson were laughing at what these White adults in positions of legal authority in Pearland ISD were doing to him. To conclude the details in the lawsuit, it states that after they finished with their humiliation and demeaning actions of blackening Juelz’s scalp, Discipline Clerk Day sent him to Miller Moment, which is study hall, because their actions caused him to miss the entirety of his Spanish class. As he continued throughout his day, the lawsuit claims that students noticed the jet-black coloring on Juelz’s scalp, which generated tons of talk around the school. Some students even criticized him and made fun of him, according to the lawsuit, and social media posts with memes followed which caused Juelz tons of mental anguish.

After several attempts by the parents and their lawyer to resolve the issues with no response from Pearland ISD, the plaintiffs filed this federal lawsuit. According to the family’s lawyer, civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen, Pearland ISD changed their dress code hairstyle policy after the incident, and to make matters worse, Assistant Principal Barcelona has been promoted from assistant principal to head principal where Juelz is now a student in the eighth grade.

“Despite this extremely shameful behavior and history of racial discrimination, the Pearland ISD has doubled down and now installed Tony Barcelona as head principal of the Berry Miller Junior High School, kept Day and Peterson in their current positions, and refused to meet with Juelz’s parents to discuss their behavior or any training of Pearland ISD employees,” said Kallinen.

In a statement, Pearland ISD stated that the practice administered by the three White Pearland ISD employees was not one condoned by the district and stated that it did not align with appropriate measures for dealing with dress code violations.

After the incident Pearland ISD Board of Trustees member Mikael Floyd stated, “It’s no secret that racism, whether intentional or not, has crept into the code. The administration has made it clear that they are aware of the Board’s stance that provisions which are rooted in cultural or racial inequalities must be changed, and anything less will be unacceptable in my opinion.”

This is a troubling pattern that has continued in Pearland ISD. According to a 2015 study by the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Civil Rights, they found that while there were more than twice as many White students (38.6%) than African American students (15.9%) enrolled in Pearland ISD, the two groups made up equal portions of students who received In-School Suspensions (30.4%). In other words, African American students were suspended 143% more often than White students.

Juelz seems to be one of those recurring Black victims in Pearland ISD, based on the details surrounding this incident and spelled out in this federal lawsuit. The real question is, however, how many more Black students will become victims of these same Pearland ISD employees, who remain in positions to impact their lives and futures?

In the meantime, the lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in compensatory damages. This case will be an interesting one to continue to follow.

Jeffrey Boney is a political analyst and frequent contributor for the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com and the associate editor for the Houston Forward Times newspaper. Jeffrey is an award-winning journalist, dynamic, international speaker, experienced entrepreneur and business development strategist. Follow Jeffrey on Twitter @realtalkjunkies.

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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