When the Richfield school board voted to uphold the firing of Jessica Martinez, dedicated Latina outreach worker at Richfield STEM elementary, many students were not surprised. While the board seemed to think it was impossible that racism is pushing staff of color out of Richfield, these students say their experience tells them differently. They see this incident as consistent with the larger patterns of racism they experience every day in the district.
Students have organized a walk-out this Thursday in protest of the firing, saying, "This is NOT the first incident of an educator of color getting threatened and shut down by their district. Multiple incidents like this have happened and are continuing to happen to our educators of color. WE MUST NOT LET THIS CONTINUE TO HAPPEN, AND WE MUST START PROTECTING OUR EDUCATORS OF COLOR WHO ARE WIDELY NEEDED!"
In their own words, organizers of the walk-out tell us why they are taking action, and what it means to them:
My name is Kaily Ceballos-Gonzalez, and I am a student enrolled in Augsburg College. I strongly urge students, educators, and community members in and outside of Richfield to show support for Jessica Martinez in Richfield STEM school. This is not the first case like Jessi's situation. In various school districts educators of color are being shut down, unsupported, and threatened to keep quiet while they are being unfairly mistreated. As a future Latina educator, I cannot see the unjust and unfair treatment of Jessica without thinking to myself that in 5 or so years, the Superintendent and my school board will not support me nor my actions when advocating for students of color or important issues we face.
As a first-generation Latina college student I find it difficult to navigate the white spaces I'm expected to be in. Not only is there little support from staff and educators of color in these white institutions, but when they continue to target and terminate positions where educators of color are excelling, it gives little to no diversity left for students like me to succeed. We need educators and staff of color! Not only for a student-to-teacher connection, but to challenge the system that has been accommodating to white staff and students. When I heard that Superintendent Unowsky had a problem with Jessica and her coworkers wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, I knew they were really scared of the unification of black and brown students. They were scared to challenge the children with possible questions like, "Why are you wearing these shirts?" Instead of Richfield using this as a possible learning tool, they decided to avoid confrontation that would challenge and disrupt the status quo. Start these conversations in your community, challenge the system, advocate for our students, and start protecting educators and staff of color!
My name is Lary Lopez and I am a Senior at Richfield Senior High School. I did not start my education in the Richfield district. I first was introduced into the district when I was a freshman. I had no idea of what to expect from the district since I had previously gone to a diverse school and had no big problems with race. I was placed in the “normal” classes, since I had not previously known that I could be in the honor courses which were supposed to be more rigorous. In the “normal” classes I had not really noticed anything big, but one thing I did notice was the lack of the white population in those classes. The only reason I had noticed was because of how our lunchroom was set up. The latinos ate with the latinos, the whites ate with the whites, etc.
For my second semester of Civics, I was put in the Honors Civics and that is where I had finally noticed the separation of students. I was one of the few people of color in that class. I had seen many of these students in the hallways, but had never once said a word to them. Now that I was in the same room as them I felt so intimidated. I felt their eyes on me. Maybe it was me just being paranoid or just being self conscious, but I felt it. After that, my next three years were pretty much the same thing. I had normal and honors courses and would be in a different place each time. One room filled with people of color and the few white people in those classes and the opposite in the honor classes, a room filled with white people with the few people of color including myself. Once I started to get to know everyone in my class I stopped feeling paranoid about them judging me, but I started to notice something new, the N-word. It was thrown around left to right by many of the white students. Not only that, but I started to notice the amount of racism in many of the students. They said things like, ”I don’t like beaners” or “why are all these black people so loud?”.
These are statements said by many RHS students on a daily basis. I don’t think there has been a single day that I have gone to this school without hearing something having to do with race relations. During my junior year it became more serious. In U.S. History we learned about the U.S. using a different lense. We didn’t use a Eurocentric lense, we used the lense of Native Americans, slaves, immigrants, refugees, the marginalized and oppressed. Nothing was skimmed over or not looked at. We saw how many people were affected by systematic racism, classism, nativism, xenophobia, sexism, etc. in America. Latin, African, Asian, and Native Americans were all impacted in some form by the U.S and it was an eye-opener. Although I cannot speak on behalf of all of my classmates. I learned this all from a specific teacher who really did care for his students and what they were learning. He did not hide any of the facts and made sure we understood the material. Many students were given the chance to learn more about their history and learn about other people’s history in a manner in which we could be proud about our history. Many students who were not of color didn’t really care about it though. For example I heard many people say, “why are we learning about this shit” and “they didn’t even matter” while we studied Civil Rights Movement.
During my Junior year of high school, a new administration started at Richfield High School. An African American Principal, Latanya Daniels, brought in new policies to RHS and made more rules so that we could improve our school. Many people just assumed that by having an African American principal we would probably not have much or any problems with race. That was not true. We still had the same problems. We had white students still saying the N-word and issues with other races. This may not have been as obvious to our administration but it was plain and simple to us. In my own opinion my senior year is where we have had the worst problems. Since this was a very political year, teachers were told to not talk about politics. This was very hard since all students wanted to talk about had to do with politics. After our new president was elected many of the students were in a state of shock, and dealing with feelings of fear. I began planning a school walk out with other students, but people were either too afraid to leave or just did not care about the issues to walk out with us.
After the election there was a derogatory tweet from an RHS student that had to do with Latino students and how our school would look very different since our school does have a big percentage of Latin Americans. They were only suspended for a couple of days for this statement. In February we wanted to do another school walk out that had to do with Black History Month, but the same problems had come up that students were too afraid or they did not care. After learning about the incident with Jessica Martinez many students at RHS feel that this is enough. We are ready to face any consequences after tomorrow for our actions. We need to change the district. We cannot let injustices go on any longer. If not for us then for the students to come. They deserve a proper education without feeling like statistical data, or as though they don’t belong. We need more people like Jessica in our district. At least she was able to stand up for what she believes. She cared for the students and was ready to stand with them. The mission statement of Richfield Public Schools is, “Richfield Public Schools inspires and empowers each individual to learn, grow and excel.”. Are they really following their mission? Are they really inspiring and empowering students and teachers to learn grow and excel?
Hello, my name is Ashley Toledano-Solís. I am a senior at John F. Kennedy High School in Bloomington, MN. At JFK, I am the Co-President of Latinx Club, and have been trying to work on breaking the stereotypes that the Latinx community has been dealing with for awhile. I want to support my Latinx community from wherever and whatever the situation is, and that is why I am standing in solidarity with Jessica Martinez.
The Jessica Martinez incident that happened in Richfield is just heart breaking. I went to the board meeting hearing, and saw the love and emotion the students had for her. I have someone like Jessica Martinez at JFK. Rosa Flores is the Latinx Student Advocate at JFK, and has been nothing but a support system and another mom. Rosa has made JFK such a welcoming place and being the supervisor for Latinx Club has made our relationship so much better. Jessi is that support system at Richfield. It is quite insane how their decision was out of proportion considering she was not the only staff participating in standing in solidarity with POC students. Jessi is not only a support system for students, but for parents. 26% of students in Richfield are Latinx. There is no other staff that is Latinx in the Richfield STEM staff. This is a problem because who do students and parents go to when they need someone who ACTUALLY understands what they're going through? I am standing with Jessi because if my school was dealing with this I would do anything to get justice for the only Latinx staff at my school; they are there not only for me, but for many other Latinx students.
Richfield students are speaking out. Is their school board listening? Their superintendent? Are you? Check out their event here and ask students how you can help!