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Community groups clash outside NHC Board of Ed building over Critical Race Theory, transgender athletes

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Rachel Keith
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WHQR
Throughout the crowd, there were some pockets of civil discourse occurring.

On Tuesday night, June 8th, two sizable crowds gathered outside of the New Hanover County School Board Building off of 13th Street. They mainly fell into two camps: One opposing what they call Critical Race Theory, and the other supporting diversity and equity measures, as well as the new policy on transgender middle school students’ ability to play sports. WHQR was there and talked to those at the rally.

A major skirmish in the culture wars exploded onto the scene before this week’s board meeting, after both sides spent weeks organizing.

Elizabeth Kramer said she’s part of a grassroots movement of parents who are concerned about what’s being taught in the school system:

“I taught for about 26 years in Wilmington; I owned a private school; and then I owned a company called, Power of Play, and I had about 100 kids a day. And I will tell you children don’t see color. And they also don’t see gender, like they love each other. [...] I don’t know why this divisive ideology is being permeated throughout our schools all across the nation but it’s unhealthy.”

Additionally, Elizabeth said she doesn’t want “Black children to learn that they’re marginalized and that the system has been created to work against them.” She also said, “white privilege is a myth.”

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Mattie Holloway
The NHC GOP supports the group, "Kids First Alliance." They lobbied for their members to attend the June 8th meeting along with the group.

Elizabeth said she’s against the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools. Academics who study CRT say that it’s mainly a tool used to analyze how race functions in America’s institutions.

Related, from our CoastLine studio: Critical Race Theory - what is it and why is it so controversial?

But Board Chair Stefanie Adams said that New Hanover County Schools does not teach CRT — nor is it on any current agenda — and the district values equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging:

“These conversations force our community to choose a side. The rising anger is palpable and we saw it this evening. [...] The rhetoric on all sides is not healthy for our students, our staff, and our community as a whole. We must do better, all of us.”

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Rachel Keith
Some community members came to show their support of Board Policy 3620, which would allow middle school transgender students to participate in team sports.

Some in the crowd, people like Angelica Omer, were there to show solidarity with transgender students -- and to support a new board policy, 3620, that would allow middle school students to play for whatever sports team is consistent with their gender identity.

Related: New Hanover County Board of Education passes transgender athlete policy

“I just say, ‘let the athletes be athletes’, basically, I’m definitely here to give my support to trans students. A lot of times their voices get muffled, and so I just want to be here to support them in their fight to just be who they are and to be themselves,” said Omer.

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Rachel Keith
From behind, Angelica Omer (far left) is holding her cardboard sign in support of NHCS trans youth.

While the crowd was mainly separated into ideological camps, there were those who were trying to communicate with one another.

Frank Fortunato: “We are talking, which I always think is better than yelling. We’re trying to exchange ideas here…”

Victoria Jackson: “We’re trying to...”

Frank: “We’re trying to…”

That’s retired cop Frank Fortunato talking with Victoria Jackson. He’s holding a U.S. flag. And she’s joined by three others who were challenging Frank’s idea that systemic racism doesn’t exist.

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Rachel Keith
Victoria Jackson (on right) speaking with another group who wanted to engage in a conversation.

One person in the group was Chris Neal, the President of UNCW’s Black Student Union.

“We’re just trying to figure out why the American flag is out in this issue? Why is he out here? Why does he oppose Critical Race Theory, and we’re just trying to show that systemic racism does exist and there are facts to prove so,” said Neal.

Frank, who’s white, said to Chris and Victoria’s group, who are all Black, that it’s “sad” that they choose to live in a world where they see race. One of the group members said that her life, “is dictated by the color of [her] skin.” To which Frank responded, “I think [that] lends itself to a victim mindset, and it’s not healthy.” She retorted that she’s reminded of her race every day by others through the simplest of things.

Chris said that the conversation he and his group had with Frank was tough: “Maybe a longer conversation would have broken some walls because it seems like it’s lots of walls and lots of misunderstandings, so it takes time and patience.”

After reflecting on his discussion with Frank, Chris said, “From what I’m hearing is that it seems like people are thinking we’re calling them racist; we’re not calling you racist unless you are racist. We’re just trying to teach about systematic racism that exists. It’s like people are getting offended and not really listening.”

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Rachel Keith
Frank is pictured far left; Chris is wearing a mask