Old “Black Lives Matter” sign sparks new discussion

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Fayette County Public School officials say a “Black Lives Matter” sign hung in a stairwell at Bryan Station High School was made by a student-led group several months ago.

District spokesperson Lisa Deffendall says the Black Lives Matter group was created in the fall of 2015. The district says students worked with an administrative team, a teacher sponsor, and a professor from the University of Kentucky for months before the club was approved. It says it’s the same process that any extra-curricular organization would go through to be established.

Here is the statement released from Fayette County School District and Bryan Station High School Principal James McMillin:

“Working with our students to establish the Black Lives Matter club was a journey that both enlightened and inspired me,” McMillin said. “These students are not saying that only certain lives matter, rather they are helping to educate and shed light on some of the social injustices that exist in the America we live in today.”

When the students first approached him, McMillin said his initial thought was, “Can’t we call it Defender Lives Matter or All Lives Matter?”

“I too had bought into the misinformation about the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead of interpreting the slogan as ‘only black lives matter,’ we need to see it as ‘black lives matter too.’ Just as I challenged the students to bring me a detailed proposal with their vision and mission for the club, they challenged me to do more than listen to a Facebook feed.”

Over the past six months, the club has sponsored conversations about stereotypes, diversity among staff, having higher expectations for all students, and fostering racial harmony at Bryan Station High School.

Noteworthy among the group’s activities was a session held between representatives from the Lexington Police Department and the students in the club. Students reached out to then-Assistant Chief Lawrence Weathers, who with the approval of the Chief, brought several officers to speak with the students.

The impetus for the conversation, Weathers said, was that the students felt that young people in Lexington have a more positive relationship with law enforcement than they were seeing represented in the national news from around the country.

“They felt like we were more approachable and asked us a bunch of questions about how to engage youth and establish stronger relationships between law enforcement officers and the community,” Weathers said, noting that the roughly half dozen officers present that day were all of different races. “It was really a great conversation. It was slated for only an hour but lasted much longer because it was such a positive experience.”

Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk said the Bryan Station High School student group was exactly the kind of student voice efforts our schools should encourage and extends an invitation to the news media to come this fall and see the work they are doing.

“We should empower our young people to speak out, speak up, and work with the administration at their schools about issues that matter,” Caulk said. “We need our students to learn that they can change the world. In this case, you’ve got students doing the right thing. What they’re doing is building racial harmony at one of our most racially diverse schools. It’s an injustice for anyone to make assumptions about the work of the students based on a sign or pre-conceived notion.” McMillin agreed.

“The fact that the news media is asking us questions today because someone got upset about the students’ sign and posted on social media is exactly the reason I’m so proud of our students and the work they are doing,” he said. “They are having the kind of in-depth discussions that make adults uncomfortable, but need to happen. This club has sparked real change that I hope lights a passion in all of us to do more to ensure that a person’s demography does not equal his or her destiny.”

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