A Black principal in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is facing considerable backlash after she sent a message out to parents announcing that the theme of the school for Black History Month would be “All Lives Matter,” according to CNN.
Christy Caldwell Drake, the principal at East Ridge Middle School, has since sent out an apology letter for the words she wrote in the weekly newsletter, touting her family’s work during the Civil Rights Movement.
But the letter did little to quell outrage among parents at the school, which has a population that is more than 70 percent Black, Hispanic or Native American, according to the Tennessee Department of Education.
On Sunday, Drake sent parents the newsletter announcing that “All Lives Matter” would be the theme of the school for the month of February. The language has since been removed from the document but it circulated widely among parents and on social media, causing significant outrage.
— Meredith Aldis WRCB (@MeredithAWRCB) February 2, 2021
“Whoever thought that was a good idea really just has refused to think critically about this or (is) willfully ignorant about it or just doesn’t want to educate themselves about it, and that disturbs me from the educators of my children,” Jessica Arnold, a parent of a student at the school, told local news outlet WRCB.
“Most people were like what, like seriously? No matter what they are doing, they are marginalizing a good bit of their student population,” Arnold added.
Drake sent out a lengthy apology on Monday once the outrage continued to grow.
“Yesterday, I sent the regular newsletter providing updates to our families as we return to in-person learning this week. As part of that newsletter, I highlighted February as Black History Month with a theme of ‘All Lives Matter.’ I want to apologize for not more fully considering the context of that theme, as my inspiration for it was taken from a mural within our school that states ‘Where Every Child Matters,’” Drake wrote.
“As a black woman in leadership, I embrace civil rights, Black History Month, and the sacrifices that have been made by those who came before me. I hope that my students, many of whom look like me, believe in the possibilities of their unlimited potential. My father, Dr. Virgil J. Caldwell, was a local pastor and civil rights leader. I had the opportunity to experience firsthand the fight for equality,” Drake added.
Yet the apology contains some of the very same language that got her in trouble in the first place. She said both of her parents are educators and she believes “every child that walks through the doors of East Ridge Middle School matters, and my heart was to emphasize how important each one of our students are to me.”
Tucker McClendon, a member of the District 8 School Board, wrote on Twitter that she supported Drake and touted the apology.
“I’m aware of the newsletter that went out today from a school in my district. I have full confidence in Principal Drake and she will be issuing an apology shortly,” McClendon wrote.
I’m aware of the newsletter that went out today from a school in my district. I have full confidence in Principal Drake and she will be issuing a apology shortly. https://t.co/G7aXGWKfBy
— Tucker McClendon (@TuckerMcClendon) February 1, 2021
Cody Patterson, a Hamilton County Schools spokesman, later told CNN that the school would have no theme for Black History Month and asked those critical of Drake to read her letter.
“If you read her apology letter, you’ll kind of see her heart,” Patterson said.
But Arnold, who shared a screenshot of the newsletter on Facebook, continued to criticize Drake’s actions in an interview with The Chattanooga Times Free Press.
“It was kind of a slap in the face to me. I can’t even imagine how a person of color would look at it and how they would feel…It would be bad enough that they did it anytime. But the fact that they announced ‘Ooo it’s Black History Month, and we’re gonna say this’ it’s just like, unbelievable,” Arnold told the newspaper.
She said she emailed Drake about the newsletter and Drake responded by saying, the “All Lives Matter” message was related to the school’s “Every Student Matters” mural.
Drake included a photo of the mural in her apology letter.
“We are trying to educate our children to do better and be better than we were…That’s what I’m trying to do with my kids. I want [my daughter] to understand that people are different and that’s OK. I feel like we’ve made progress lately … but I think it’s unacceptable for any kind of educator or government…This to me is a step backward. I feel like they marginalized the 34 percent of their student population by doing that,” Arnold said.
Arnold added that she, as a white woman, wants her children to be better than the previous generations, and she wants her daughter to have respect for Black lives.
“I want her to be better. I don’t want her to be the same as we’ve always been. That’s the point. We can’t change things until we educate our children. The next generation is going to be the ones to change things,” Arnold told News Channel 9.
Tricia Harris, a senior aide for civil rights leader Andrew Young, spoke with local news outlet WDEF and said the “All Lives Matter” term was now used widely as a retort to Black Lives Matter as opposed to a genuine call for equality.
“The whole point in saying Black Lives Matter is that in order for all lives to matter, black lives must matter. We must value them the same, we must have equity in our justice system, that we must be reflective of who we are as a nation. But unfortunately in this climate, we went from Black lives matter to blue lives matter, to some people in our community feeling like to say Black lives matter somehow insinuates that all lives don’t matter,” Harris said.
“I don’t believe in this instance it was her intent, it was the school’s intent to demean the movement as a whole. I really think she was just trying to be inclusive and not really consider the connotation of all lives matter and how it’s been used,” Harris added.