On Friday, Aug. 21, crowds of Oak Grove High School students organized a walkout from school due to ignorant acts of racism being allowed during their senior run on the first day of school.
That Monday, on Aug. 17, footage can be seen of seniors shouting “white power” during the annual senior run. Three boys coming to the run had in their possession a Trump flag and Blue Lives Matter flag. The Trump flag was taken away due to a past incident in 2017, but the Blue Lives Matter Flag was allowed.
One OGHS Alumni, Sumar Beauti, a current senior at Southern Miss, gave insight to what happened in 2017 and why instances like that could no longer be tolerated.
“I was an alum in ’17[,] and my class was the class that brought the Trump flag to our senior run.” Beauti explained. “When they brought that Trump flag, it was very upsetting to a lot of students and we tried to voice our concern to the administrators, but they swept it under the rug. We as students didn’t know what else to do now that we just told administration, no one did anything, we just felt like no one really cared. When I saw that this was happening at the high school again this year, we know what that symbolizes today and that it is a symbol for opposition of Black Lives Matter.”
Fellow OGHS Alum Angel Walker is the executive director of outreach for the New MS Youth Project, and shared her thoughts on the culture her alma mater brought as well.
“For it to be such a diverse school it doesn’t embrace cultures well,” Walker said. “[There] was maybe one course that taught Black history only because the teacher felt like it was her duty. I was surprised to hear one of my white peers ask who Martin Luther King was […] and even now [OGHS] still does not [embrace cultures,] because you have students trying to inform others about the struggles about black individuals and you have students going online saying ‘White Lives Matter’ and ‘All lives matter’ ignoring the struggles of Black Americans.”
With the stir for change to occur on Oak Grove’s campus, Walker mentioned a group chat called “Youth Discussion”, organized by New MS Youth Project, was created. With over 175 members and counting, predominantly from the Hattiesburg area, current high school students and alums use the group to chat and gather resources for discussions on racism and police brutality to share with their family members.
The school district instantly lashed out against the walk-out. Any high schooler who participated in the walk-out could be punished by lossing class officer positions, senior awards and hall of fame recognitions, among other things.
“They’re scared of being called out, they know these things have been happening, they know they have been sweeping things under the rug, but now that they are finally being called out for it they’re scared so they want to silence the students to keep from doing that,” Beauti explains. “In today’s day in age where everyone is speaking out about these injustices[,] it is so empowering and all of these kids have so much courage and I’m so proud of them all.”
With Beauti and Walker getting calls from students saying that the teachers and police officers were blocking the exit doors, they had support outside ready to meet them from groups like Black Lives Matter Mississippi, the Mississippi Rising Coalition, New MS Youth and Ground Zero cheering the students on.
Christopher Preston, a member of the Ground Zero group and speaker during the Hal Marx protests, came to this event as well showing support.
“To see that young group of people out there dedicated and committed to standing up for the cause of social injustice was mind-blowing. My confidence in young people was renewed to see them galvanize in such a way and just their passion and being open, very outspoken about what’s not right, it just blew me away to be honest,” said Preston.
With these events and times for change in the Oak Grove school district, superintendent Tess Smith has decided to step down from her position. Dr. Steven Hampton is set to take over at the end of October, with Smith helping in the transition.