After an all-white school board in Pennsylvania issued a banned book list predominantly targeting voices of color, a student-led advocacy group helped reverse the decision through nearly a month of protests.
The Panther Anti-Racist Union is a racial and social justice advocacy group comprised of students at Central York High School, a predominantly white institution, per NBC News.
In August, the Central York School District released a controversial ban on several educational materials about Black stories, including “Hidden Figures,” a book about Black woman mathematicians, the James Baldwin documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” and multiple titles by psychologist Beverly Daniel Tatum including “Can we talk about race?” and “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”
In response, the student group led classmates, parents and educators through about a month of “walk-in” protests, during which, participants “held brightly colored signs with slogans like ‘BLM’ and ‘Education is not indoctrination’ outside the school,” NBC News reported.
“We are walking together in opposition to the Diversity Resource ban instituted by the CYSD School Board,” organizers wrote on the union’s Instagram page in September. “The banned resources include books, videos, documentaries and articles that support diversity, Black history and cultural awareness and are written by primarily BIPOC authors.”
“PARU believes this is wrong and we are protesting peacefully each day until these materials and resources are no longer banned,” wrote representatives for the student group, which also protested the ban by reading excerpts from books on the banned list.
Student siblings Christina and Renee Ellis told NBC News their motivations for protesting the ban, which included holding their educational institution accountable for including diverse voices.
“If a little girl or Black girl goes into her school library and can’t find a single book that represents her and people are telling her that she doesn’t really matter, she will treat herself as such. She will act like she doesn’t matter, and that’s how a cycle continues,” Christina said.
“We didn’t want history to repeat itself, with hiding history, hiding the experiences of people of color in this country,” said Renee. “We also wanted to make sure that the younger kids underneath got a full education, especially with the murder of George Floyd and the murder of Breonna Taylor and so many other social justice issues in America.”
The ban at the Central York School District came as conservatives began to push back against critical race theory, a higher-education philosophy that posits that race and America’s legacy of enslavement is central to social justice ills in this nation.
The wave of bans on educational materials about race prompted students across the county to take their education into their own hands, such as Texas seventh-grader Jaiden Johnson, co-founder of a virtual book group for diverse students interested in reading diverse stories.
NBC News reported Johnson and a classmate started the Round Rock Black Students Book Club in response to Meridian High School in Texas temporarily banning a section of books in the school library.
“I wanted a chance for all the Black kids in my community to get together and know each other better and read about Black characters that inspire us and not just about Black people and slavery,” he said.
Co-leader Kharia Pitts said: “I have books that star Black people, but I don’t have a lot of them,” adding, “I was thinking of other kids who don’t think that there are books about Black people, and I want to change that, because that’s almost what I thought.”
theGrio’s Biba Adams contributed to this report.
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