Church, school, community leaders talk about race after Confederate flag incident

October 23, 2009
Amanda Memrick

It will take cooperation from both the community and the schools to conquer racism, local leaders say.

Gaston County Schools Superintendent Reeves McGlohon, the Rev. Benjamin Hinton of Tabernacle Baptist Church, community activist John Barnette and former school board member Jennifer Davis met Thursday to talk about respect for diversity both inside and outside of schools.

“I think there is a tendency to think that this issue that North Gaston (High) has faced in these past weeks was unique to North Gaston, and that’s not true,” McGlohon said. “It’s not just a school problem. If we’re going to make sure that we all respect diversity, it’s something that we’re all going to have to work at in our schools, our churches and throughout our community.”

Two weeks ago someone taped up a Confederate flag on the school’s flag pole. The next morning three students — one black, two white — received five-day suspensions for a verbal argument. Barnette, serving as family spokesman for one of the suspended teens, said last week the argument occurred when two white students wearing Confederate flag shirts told the black student to take off his President Barack Obama T-shirt. All of the students are now back in school.

McGlohon said the group was in the process of forming plans over the next few weeks to get started in the right direction. Students and parents will also be involved in deciding how to address the issue, he said.

The group will meet again next month to look at ways to educate students, teachers and staff from not only the school perspective but the community perspective, said Hinton.

Hinton said he understands the pride that some feel about their heritage, but need to be mindful of what kind of reactions the Confederate flag might spark in others.

“To me, that’s ignorance right there. To me that’s dishonoring their history and their heritage,” Hinton said. “I can respect the historical heritage of those Confederates who fought and died. Their blood, sweat and tears were just as valuable as the slaves that lost their lives.”

Hinton said the faith community needs to be at the forefront of diversity discussions.

“I think we need to take the lead, both the black pulpit and the white pulpit,” Hinton said. “We’re going to have to take the lead in preaching and teaching and demonstrating.”

But it’s not going to be easy.

“How do you change a mindset? It’s going to take re-programming almost,” Hinton said. “Some of it’s never going away. We can’t change everybody. Until the hearts of people change, the community won’t change.”

It’s going to take everyone’s help, Hinton said.

“We’ve made some strides but we still have a long way to go,” Hinton said. “What we don’t need to do is turn back the hands of time.”

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