[“Go Backstage” is an occasional series explaining to readers the process of reporting and writing stories. The purpose of the series is to help readers understand the nuances of journalism and to add transparency to the process.
I got to know Patsy Simpson over the telephone in early March while interviewing her for a story about race relations in Alamance County.
She was generous with her time and spoke freely about how race impacts students of color in the Alamance- Burlington School System. Ms. Simpson introduced me to her foster daughter Destiny who also talked freely and at great length about her experiences as a student at Southern Alamance High School.
This week, Ms. Simpson was at the center of a controversy over an article in the Southern Alamance High School yearbook that provided a summary of the Black Lives Matter movement. The yearbook also included summary articles about other factual events such as the presidential election that occurred during the 2020-21 school year.
The Black Lives Matter article outraged some parents. Some of them attended Monday’s school board meeting to express concern.
Ms. Simpson, the lone Black school board member, got into an heated exchange with someone in the audience. In March, she spoke about feeling the weight of being the board’s only Black member.
Here’s my take on the unfortunate school board meeting. – Greg Childress]
It was difficult to watch the video of Alamance-Burlington school board member Patsy Simpson reminding a speaker that Black lives matter and that part of “getting along” means acknowledging who she is as a person.
You can hear the hurt, the pain and weariness in Simpson’s voice as she explained those simple truths to a speaker who’d come before the board to complain about a yearbook article that highlighted and summarized the activities of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Don’t talk to me about setting an example when you talked about Black lives don’t matter,” Simpson said in a heated exchange with an audience member. “Don’t talk to me about that when you’re talking about why I feel the way I do.”
I spoke to Simpson for several hours in March and April for “PW special report – The battle for Alamance part 3: A school system in which racial divisions and inequities persist.” The story explored how race impacts the education and social and emotional well-being of children in the county.
The story is part of an ongoing Policy Watch series examining race relations in the troubled county.
During our talks, Simpson made two things clear: First, she cares deeply about all children in the Alamance-Burlington School System. And secondly, she understands her unique role as the school board’s lone Black member.
“It feels like a really heavy weight on my shoulders,” Simpson said of being the only Black board member. “Some people, particularly white residents, think that I’m always advocating for Black students, and they’re absolutely right, because I can see the disparities and I can see the issues that have not been addressed in these schools.”
Racial tension boiled over in Alamance County last year after citizens gathered in downtown Graham to protest the presence of a Confederate monument in front of the courthouse.
The protests, which led to the arrests and jailing of several participants, were sparked by the killing of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man who died under the knee of former police officer Derek Chauvin. Last month, the disgraced officer was found guilty of all the charges he faced over Floyd’s death.
Critics of the yearbook article titled “From Hashtag to Movement: How a movement helped people speak up against discrimination” were outraged that such an article appeared in Southern Alamance’s yearbook.
It must have been a hard pill to swallow for some residents, especially those who remember the 1960s and beyond when the school sported a Confederates mascot and football players proudly trotted onto the field waving a Confederate battle flag. Read more