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Students and parents protest Shawnee Mission East's response to racist attack: 'Have our backs'

Four people face the camera, a woman and a girl in shirts that say "Defend Black Lives" in pink under jackets, a man in a red and black flannel under a jacket, and a boy with glasses in a shirt with "Defend Black Lives" in green.
Lawrence Brooks IV
KCUR 89.3
Fifteen-year-old Brey'anna Brown (second from left) and her family talk to media at the protest in her honor on Thursday, Nov. 30 in front of the Shawnee Mission School District’s Center for Academic Achievement in Prairie Village.

Students, parents, community leaders and activists held a protest to support Black students in the Shawnee Mission School District after a video of a white male student verbally and physically assaulting a Black female student went viral on social media earlier this week.

More than 80 students and parents from across the Kansas City metro gathered in the cold and rain outside the Shawnee Mission School District’s Center for Academic Achievement in Prairie Village on Thursday evening.

They were angry about what they described as the district's lackluster response to a white male student using racial slurs and repeatedly punching a Black female student in the face, which garnered attention after the Kansas City Defender posted a video of the incident on social media.

The incident sent Brey’anna Brown to the hospital with a broken nose and facial contusions, her family said at the protest.

The crowd chanted “Have our backs,” “Justice for Brey,” and “If not now, then when?” in response to what they called a hate crime.

Brown, who was at the protest, said the school needs to enforce harsher consequences for racist behavior.

“He should have never put his hands on me and that he should take a lesson from this … I think he should be expelled and shouldn’t be around the school at all,” said Brown.

She thanked the crowd after several students spoke about the racism they face at Shawnee Mission East.

“It feels amazing. I think it's the best thing that could ever happen in this situation,” she said.

Shawnee Mission East High School has close to 1,700 students, with nearly 83% identifying as white. Eight percent of students identified as Hispanic with less than 5% being biracial and a little more than 2% identifying as African American.

“The purpose of the protest is to make the voices of the Black students who attend Shawnee Mission East heard by the administration, the rest of their peers, and the district,” said Madison Lyman, a student at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy.

Lyman is an organizer with theBlack Student Solidarity Network, who organized the demonstration.

“When things like this occur, it is essential that a community rises to amplify but also love the people who fall victim to horrific and systematically racist actions, she said. "Black students across Kansas City and the nation are why the Black Student Solidarity network was created."

Five students hold signs saying "no place for hate," "good night white pride," "no more victim blaming" and two that say "justice for Brey."
Lawrence Brooks IV
KCUR 89.3
A group of students hold their protest signs in front of the Shawnee Mission School District’s Center for Academic Achievement on Thursday, Nov. 30. They were there to support Brey'anna Brown and Black students in the Shawnee Mission School District after she was attacked and injured by a white male student.

This is the second protest since the video went viral and caused dozens of students at Shawnee Mission East to stage a walkout. Since then, the incident has garnered national headlines.

The video showed Brown walking away from a verbal altercation over what appeared to be another incident involving racist remarks made by a different student. The white male student used the N-word several times while coming toward her. He pushed her, then both could be seen grabbing and throwing punches at one another.

KCUR is not using the name of the suspect since he is a juvenile. According to Johnson County Court records, he was charged with one count of felony aggravated battery for the Nov. 15 incident. This is the second time he has been charged for the same crime this year.

Brey'anna's father, Shaun Brown, called for a change in district leadership. He said this was the second incident involving his daughter that he said principal Susan Leonard downplayed the seriousness of.

“Definitely a look at how they deal with these types of situations when there is racism involved … Definitely change the front office that has dropped the ball,” said Brown.

A student in a beanie holds up a sign that says "Protect Black Women" as she stands next to a crowd of other students and adults outside the Shawnee Mission School District’s Center for Academic Achievement in Prairie Village.
Lawrence Brooks IV
KCUR 89.3
Students hold signs and gather to support Black students in the Shawnee Mission School District after an incident left their classmate Brey'anna Brown with a broken nose.

SMSD chief communications officer David Smith told KCUR that “the principal at Shawnee Mission East has been in conversation with students since that time, and from my understanding things have gone well."

"There are things that they (students) need to say that we need to hear, and it's appropriate for them to find ways to give voice to what they need to say, and we need to listen," he said.

Smith declined to comment on the school's disciplinary actions against either student.

“Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is a body of work we (the Shawnee Mission School District) have been working on for probably the last five years and it's something that we will continue to work on," he said.

Brown's parents say both Brey'anna and the other student were suspended for the incident.

Jaxton Taylor, a 17-year-old senior at Shawnee Mission East who attended the protest, said racism is a regular occurrence for Black and Brown students at the school — and they want to see real policy change, like racial sensitivity programs for teachers and updates to the code of conduct to include specific policies for racist incidents.

"I want them to address the racism at their school. I don't want them to brush it under the rug," he said. "I want them to acknowledge that their was a hate crime committed in their halls."

Taylor said students and community members will also protest at the SMSD school board meeting on Tuesday.

As KCUR’s race and culture reporter, I work to help readers and listeners build meaningful and longstanding relationships with the many diverse cultures that make up the Kansas City metro. I deliver nuanced stories about the underrepresented communities that call our metro home, and the people whose historically-overlooked contributions span politics, civil rights, business, the arts, sports and every other realm of our daily lives.
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