Hillcrest students host peaceful walkout after days of Black history program debate
About 300 students at Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa County stood up and walked out of class around 9:30 a.m. No, it wasn’t a fire drill or a classroom change; students were instead showing the school’s administration that they should be heard.
The walkout happened after several days of debate and community involvement after students working on a Black History Month project happening Feb. 22 said they were told by the school they could not showcase events that happened before the 1970s.
Hillcrest administration denied that was the case last week, but students met with local civil rights leaders over the weekend and on Monday several visited the school and ensured students’ voices weren’t being stifled.
During Wednesday’s walkout, which lasted about an hour, students protested peacefully with speeches, signs and rallying cries.
Hillcrest senior Jamiyah Brown described what students said they were told.
“It was in a calm manner that they came to us and addressed the situation, saying ‘it makes us uncomfortable if we talk about slavery or segregation or civil rights,’ ” she said.
Tuscaloosa NAACP President Lisa Young said on Monday Hillcrest administrators told her students’ accounts were inaccurate and they would have creative control over the program.
“We asked (students) what they wanted to do,” Young said. “What we wanted to do was stay out of it and allow the students to come up with a plan and we support them. I was told they planned to stage a walkout to address some of their concerns and get administration’s attention. I feel that these students are courageous and should be commended for their efforts to bring to light some of the issues here at Hillcrest High School.”
Students including Brown said they hope this demonstration helps create a conversation between students and administrators at Hillcrest High School, even if it’s uncomfortable.
“I am lost for words,” Brown said. “I cannot believe this many people actually took to heart what I was saying about their rights, about having the freedom to express them. This is about expression and us being held back from that expression in a place that is supposed to educate and lift us up.”
On Wednesday afternoon, WVUA 23 received the following statement from the Tuscaloosa County School System:
“The Tuscaloosa County School System supports our students’ right to peacefully demonstrate. A number of our Hillcrest High students have concerns about the culture within their school. We care deeply about our students, and it is important that their concerns are heard. We are putting together a plan to make sure our students feel heard, so that we know the right steps to put in place to ensure all students know that they are valued.”