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Letter to the Editor: Human rights activist forwards letter about basketball incident

March 8, 2017 Opinion 4 Comments

Dear Superintendent (Kevin) Case:

I am Dr. Aaron Lewis, human rights activist, educator, child advocate and founder of The Scribe’s Institute Inc., a dedicated literacy center in Hartford’s north end. We represent children throughout the Hartford Public School district with regards to equity, civility, and ethical treatment. After discovering such appalling and racially charged actions from Canton students during a recent basketball tournament game toward Classical Magnet School basketball players, I was deeply disturbed. Also, I believe that the way in which the Canton Board of Education and the CIAC handled the matter only proved to continue the age-old struggle of racial tensions within our communities, our state, and our country.

It has been stated by various parents and staff members in Canton that the taunting and racially charged remarks from Canton students does not reflect the sentiments and ideals of the Canton community. This cannot be true and to believe so is only gross denial. Nearly all children receive their views of life, politics, religion, and tolerance from their parents. And under most circumstances children’s views are often an offspring of their parents’ core beliefs which are openly shared in the home. This behavior is unfathomable and necessitates taking a much deeper look at the core ethics that this school district claims to embrace. Succinctly put, the students’ behavior is an open expression of what many of the parents privately believe. 

The very mission of Canton High School states: To engage all students in learning by providing a rigorous and relevant curriculum in an environment of mutual respect and personal responsibility. This mission was completely overlooked with regards to the disrespect of the students at Classical Magnet. Furthermore, an apology from the students is simply not enough, as apologizing does not bear any real consequence and only speaks to the students in question and the team, that their actions where not really that bad. If nothing is loss, then the students will be proud to have acted in such a manner, knowing that the Canton Board of Education, Canton High School, and the CIAC, who has not addressed the matter as of this writing, all stand in agreement with them, that racists intimidations and bigoted rants are fully endorsed by all three entities. Something must be done.

Within the past two weeks our nation has witnessed a drastic spike in Anti-Semitic demonstrations, from the decimation of Jewish cemeteries and burning down of synagogues, to bomb threats to both our local Jewish Community Center in West Hartford of which our organization partners with, and the Hebrew High School of New England. While, I wholeheartedly believe in the free and democratic process of voting for whomever one chooses, one cannot argue that recent spikes in Anti-Semitism, racial aggression, and sexism are directly correlated to a political administration which condones rather than condemns such actions. As a result, these tensions have divided communities that were just at the onset of beginning to heal. This behavior only brings us backward and totally reverses any real progress toward creating a genuine democracy that works for all people.

The CIAC, which is a governing board for athletic high school teams in the State of Connecticut has not issued a statement concerning this incident, as rightly they should have. The overall attitude concerning this behavior is at best nonchalant. If the Canton School district truly does not endorse racially charged or Anti-Semitic behavior and does not tolerate abusiveness toward any people group, then I am asking the principal of Canton High School, the Superintendent of the Canton Board of Education and the CIAC to make a bold stand by suspending the team for one year to demonstrate to them that there are consequences connected to behaviors that your district will not tolerate. Again, an apology is not only weak, but is exactly what the students expect from authorities who may share the same perspectives toward race and bigotry as they’ve demonstrated.

This letter comes respectfully as a call to conscience and a call to action for the town of Canton to demonstrate exactly where you stand on issues such as these. After a 400-year struggle for justice amongst people of color in this country, I believe that someone needs to stand up in your administration and say we do not endorse or tolerate this behavior and prove the veracity of those words by letting the students know publicly that they will be penalized for their actions. Anything less, will only create the infrastructure for worse things to happen in the future.

A verbal or written apology does not bear any consequences whatsoever, insofar as nothing is being loss in the process. On behalf of the students at Classical Magnet and the entire student body of Hartford Public Schools we seek public consequences for this behavior, as their bigoted demonstration was not done in a clandestine manner but rather overtly. For further dialog concerning this matter I may be reached at 860-206-0024 or at thescribesinstitute@gmail.com.

Dr. Aaron Lewis Ph.D., President & Founder, The Scribe’s Institute, Inc.

  • Susan Mather

    Dr. Lewis,
    Your letter certainly sounds like you are attacking our community as a whole. If you want to address your opinion of the consequences so be it, but do not personally attack me. That is how I read your letter. I was not at the game in question, so I will not put anyone on trial based on what is written by the media.
    Although it seems like something occurred that I would not have condoned of my own children, I don’t have all the facts. What I have heard from the school is that approximately 7 students were “involved”. I heard nothing of them being on the basketballl team, so how can you ask the team to be banned. I’m hurt that you accuse our entire community of racism. It was a handful of students. To me your letter just adds gas to the fire you accuse our current administration of reigniting by attacking our community as a whole. I don’t condone discrimination and will continue to share my values and beliefs with our children.

    Also, I didn’t see a big outpouring of media attention at the Unified Sports basketball event that Canton attended at a different CREC school in Hartford shortly after the game in question. Were you there? I thought everyone there got along with respect and admiration for each other. Hardly the impression you’re leaving of Canton. Do not attack the masses by the actions of a few.
    Susan Mather

  • Jesse Hartman

    It sure must be hard carrying 400(plus) years of oppression on your shoulders Dr. Lewis. It must be a heavy burden indeed. Sounds like you’ve made a business model out of that. Good for you for helping so many.
    The rest of us live in the real world where human conflict is simply a fact of life that must be dealt with on an individual basis. If those Hartford students were somehow so traumatized by perceived jeers of “Trump” during a basketball game than I’d suggest they seek professional help since being that emotionally fragile will likely lead to miserable lives.
    During the basketball game the disruptive students were told to shut up as they should have been. The event ended there. No public floggings were needed.
    Now, I don’t have a Ph.D. so perhaps you can enlighten me. If “Trump” is now a forbidden word, a slur of some kind when chanted at basketball games. (Perhaps a quick reference card of forbidden words is needed) That leads me to believe that the president has somehow offended the black community. How has president “Trump” himself continued to oppress the community you claim to represent?

  • Autumn Sutherland

    I wasn’t there – and very few specifics of the incident have been published.

    What seems clear is that the school (and many there that evening) believed several (7?) Canton students behaved inappropriately towards a visiting team. The response is an apology.

    An apology might be a good lesson for a 3 year old when they use another’s toy without permission – but for high school young men performing intimidating and unsportsmanlike behaviour, an in-person apology is only the first step.

    How about spending time in Hartford or other diverse population where they might run into people of not only other colors, but cultures as well. And not as a class, where they can hide behind each others humor and bravado, but one-on-one with people who appear to be “other” than what they themselves are…

    This could be a wonderful educational opportunity.

    True education – like, how to exist in the world with the myriad of other peoples, races, religions, orientations, foods… how to be compassionate and kind – a true life skill would be far more rewarding to the students than doing a homework assignment of a written apology.

    • Heather Munro Presco

      The latest article I’ve seen in the Valley Press says that worse things were said than the President’s name. Having students (and adults who make excuses for their behavior) visit communities in Hartford is a good idea.


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