JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, a public magnet school in Jacksonville named after local black civil rights activist, is creating a new advisory group to help improve the culture at the school after students came forward to share their experiences with racism.

Students and alumni recently started sharing their stories with former students Jade Collins and Madison Kiernan who then shared them on Facebook. Their stories add to the growing trend of students and alumni in Jacksonville and across the nation who are calling attention to racism in their schools as protests demanding social justice flood the streets.

“I’ve been out of DA for a year now. I’ve just been able to think about the insane stories that I’d heard from people, the insane things I witnessed I’ve been a part of and how easily we could all laugh them off going there,” Collins told News4Jax. “But I’m telling different people who I now go to school with and I’m realizing how incredibly insane and wrong a lot of those things were.”

Collins, a 19-year-old first-year student at the University of Central Florida, shared the stories with News4Jax. The 11-pages of posts are anonymous, so News4Jax can’t independently verify the comments or who is behind the post.

“The only ‘black’ show that was done in my 4 years there was at a whole different theatre because the ‘language’ but we did at least two shows in my time there were black people were cast as slaves,” one of the testimonials reads.

“Our senior year I noticed a particular person started to openly say the N word and she was not a person of color. Then she posted a picture of her with a black child from Africa on social media and her comment was along the lines of ‘I’m not a racist because I’ve been in several mission trips and I don’t see how people could have that much hate,‘” another post reads.

“Douglas Anderson was originally a black school NO one acknowledges that nor do they appreciate it and instead throw it under the rug,” another post reads. “They tell us to audition in the theater department only for us to be turned down year after year show after show…let’s not forget that we only have ONE African American teacher…”

Other testimonials call out staff at the school, but their names were redacted by Collins and Kiernan.

Both the Duval County Public School District and school leaders said they are aware of the posts.

“Yes, I am aware of these concerns, and it absolutely breaks my heart,” Principal Melanie Hammer wrote in a statement to News4Jax.

In an email to students, Hammer wrote: “These past few weeks have reminded me that we do not live in a perfect world. This forces me to reflect on the fact that DA has room for growth. More importantly, I acknowledge the pain and frustration with the ways in which some students feel that we at DA have missed the mark of creating an inclusive environment that bridges the difference among all people.”

Hammer said the school will create a Student Culture Advisory group to help improve the culture at Douglas Anderson.

“I am looking for students who want to partner with me to create an environment of equity and inclusivity. This group of students will serve as advisors and leaders in the work we must do to move our school forward and live up to our beliefs of bridging differences among people,” Hammer wrote.

Douglas Anderson School of the Arts was established in 1922 and was originally named the South Jacksonville School. According to the school’s website, at the time, it was the only school on the city’s Southside serving black students. After he died in 1936 at the age of 52, the school was renamed to honor Douglas Anderson, a black civil rights activist who helped acquire land and build the original building. He was best known for his efforts to provide transportation for black students, operating the only bus service for them in Duval County.

“We’ve spoken to the superintendent and change is happening, but there’s still so much more that needs to be done,” Kiernan wrote on Facebook. “To those that shared their stories with us, thank you. To them and to the countless others who walked away from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts with trauma of the racism they experienced, we promise that change is coming. DA will, and MUST, be reformed.”

On Wednesday, News4Jax reported that students and alumni of color are also posting about their experiences with racism at three elite private schools in the Jacksonville area including The Bolles School, Bishop Kenny and Episcopal.

Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax – All rights reserved.

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