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Youth continues era of public rallies, now over teaching of structural racism

Students rallied Friday at the Hands Off Georgia event at the state Capitol. (Photo by Fonta High.)

Editor’s note: This story was updated Friday with a photo of the rally and estimated number of participants.

By David Pendered

The era of youth protests continued Friday at the Georgia Capitol, where a group estimated at more than 100 students gathered to protest legislation that aims to curb the teaching of structural racism, often described as critical race theory.

According to a statement about the event, the purpose was to oppose two bills that “seek to ban critical race theory in public classrooms, which would seriously damage students’ access to education.”

For some youths, Friday’s event at the Capitol continued a social movement that gained success last summer. That effort involved a call from youths, many from Decatur, for the removal of the “Indian War” cannon from the grounds of the Decatur Square. The cannon had been used in the Indian War of 1836 to expel Native Americans from Georgia. The cannon was removed in October 2021.

Friday’s event also continued the trend of public displays that some youths joined in 2020, following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Organizers have named their new entity Hands Off Georgia. A statement released by the group observes the organizers expect youths and adults from across metro Atlanta to join in the event. It began at 10 a.m. at Liberty Plaza. Participants moved to the steps of the Capitol, where photos were taken.

Hands Off Georgia is focused on two proposals, House Bill 1084 and Senate Bill 377. The two measures address the teaching of structural racism in the United States.

HB 1084 is sponsored by Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville) and the co-sponsors include Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Milton.)

SB 377 is sponsored by Gov. Brian Kemp’s floor leader, Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia). The bill has 29 cosponsors.

Both proposals are pending in their respective chambers.

The event planned Friday came on the heels of a related rally Sunday on the steps of the Capitol. Co-sponsors include the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, which had a leadership role in grassroots organization calling for the removal of the cannon from the Decatur Square. The three other co-sponsors are K16 Teach Truth, Gwinnett Educators for Equity and Justice, and United Campus Workers.

The purpose of the event Sunday was to spread the message that the pending legislation “would destroy years of progress towards equity education.”

The Hands Off Georgia statement outlines the group’s objectives in two paragraphs:

“Within the next few weeks, a series of bills will attempt to be passed by Georgia Representatives. Because it is an election year, we recognize that these bills have the ability to pass with flying colors — that is why we, as student activists, plan to take action. One of these bills includes HB 1084, which aims to ban all aspects of Critical Race Theory, including all mention of the United States as a systemically racist institution. This legislation explicitly censors the ability to talk about and teach issues many students of all races feel are vital to creating a just world.

If this bill is passed it will cripple schools’ freedom to educate their students on important topics such as race, paralyze students’ rights to privacy, and cut public school funding by up to 20 percent if schools are caught teaching students about race. We cannot simply ignore the histories of our students of color. Just as we are constantly taught White history, we must normalize talking about the experiences and the histories of all of our students. If we fail to do so, we are only promoting a breeding ground for division, ignorance and hatred.”

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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