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All Cecelia Lewis, a Black middle school principal, wanted to do was feel welcomed in Georgia, but as soon as rumors spread about her new job, parents threatened, blackmailed, and railed against her so she would leave town.
At Cherokee County School District, Lewis wanted a position as a coach for teachers, something that would bring her close to the classroom. Nevertheless, the district leaders were so impressed by her interview that they suggested she apply for the new opening: the first administrator focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
Lewis was hesitant to take the new role because she had never held a position like this before. However, she knew that this occupation would permit her to examine the district’s “systemic and instructional practices” to uplift the whole child better.
Superintendent Brian Hightower stated that “we’re so excited to add Cecelia to the CCSD family” in the March 2021 announcement for all new hires. Hightower continued to rave about Lewis stating, “both her impressive credentials and enthusiasm fit the role,” and to put the icing on the cake, “in four days, she had a DEI action plan for us.”
Black educator receives warning via unknown caller
Before moving to the South, Lewis was hanging out with family and friends when she received a call from an unidentified person who asked if she had heard of CRT. Lewis responded to the unrevealed person, “Yes — culturally responsive teaching.” Culturally responsive teaching connects a child’s roots with what they learn in school. At this time, she was unfamiliar with the other CRT, Critical Race Theory, a theoretical framework developed in the 1980s to explain structural and systemic racism in society while also analyzing its effects on African Americans.
The caller told Lewis that wealthy white parents believed she wanted to implement Critical Race Theory into their school policies and were upset with that.
At this time, Lewis was unfamiliar with the Critical Race Theory or why their parents thought she would be teaching that course. However, after white parents learned that Lewis was hired, rumors quickly spread that she would teach the class.
Georgia white parents accuse Black educator of teaching Critical Race Theory
A month later, many white parents gathered together to hold a meeting, addressing their concerns about CRT. One presenter, Rhonda Thomas, stated, “it [CRT] teaches kids that whites are inherently racist and oppressive, perhaps unconsciously…And all whites are responsible for all historical actions and should feel guilty.”
Another presenter, Noelle Kahaian, highlighted how to capture the attention at Georgia school board meetings while also explaining how to file offenses against teachers.
After the school district called to inform her about the parents’ outrage, Lewis was confused and determined that her occupation did not cover the Critical Race Theory.
However, the harassment by whites did not stop, as she received numerous emails and handwritten letters calling her a Black Yankee. According to Lewis, the letters had the same premise, “We don’t want you here, and we don’t want you to push us to find out what will happen if you come here.”
White mob of parents cause Black educator to quit…twice
On May 18, 2021, two days after the clubhouse meeting, Georgia’s Cherokee County District received over 100 letters that demanded Lewis lose her job.
At the Cherokee County School District meeting, the board voted 4-1 with two recusals to approve the anti-CRT and anti-1619 Project resolution. However, the crowd was still upset, and things started to escalate as they began yelling at Lewis, resulting in Kyla Cromer adjourning the meeting. Even after she ended the session, the white parents still began yelling and screaming, saying, “we don’t want you!” Law officers escorted many school board members to shield them from enraged parents.
Lewis’s board members turned against her, as she was left to deal with all this hate herself. Her husband was appalled, stating, “That’s it. We’re not doing this. You’re not going there.”
The day after the board meeting, Lewis quit her job as she had no desire to work in a contentious environment.
Many parents claimed that they were upset with Lewis for wanting to teach Critical Race Theory, which was false. However, the harassment and threats continued even after they were informed the course was not included in the new curriculum.
Lewis stated, “Once those concerned about it were told no, critical race theory is not what CCSD’s DEI efforts are about, the discussion should have been over.”
After quitting the position as DEI administrator, Lewis began working at Cobb County School District.
A group in Georgia called 4CanDoMore stated that Lewis had a history “riddled with Critical Race Theory,” and complaints began flooding the site demanding that Lewis get fired. Even after the white parents forced Lewis out of town, they followed her to Cobb County School District, where she realized there was no escape and resigned yet again.