Wakefield HS Students Reflect About a Day That Inspired New Outlooks and Change

Aug 25, 2017

Here’s a list of senior pranks we’ve seen in recent years at Wakefield High School: tying a trash can to a flagpole, scattering balloons on the floor, placing a painted cow on top of the roof. But, what happened this year took pranks to another level.

“There have been five racially charged incidents in Wake County Schools since March, the latest just yesterday. Someone hung a teddy bear from a noose at Wakefield High,” said one local news report on ABC11.

“Both students and employees at that school saw what was hanging from Wakefield High School earlier this morning,” reported WRAL. “Many say they are upset and angry about it.”

Next to the noose, there was a big white bed sheet that said “Make Wakefield Tripp Again.” The message was directed at the school’s former principal, Tripp Crayton, who is white. Our new principal, Malik Bazzell is black.

“This man is a black principal,” said Lauren Howell, president of Wakefield’s Black Student Union. “He’s a black man in a position of power and what happens when every black man is in a position of power? People get upset and they try to clown him and disrespect him because he's in a position of power.”

A montage of tweets from various students, including the Wakefield Black Student Union, who tweeted reactions immediately following the incident.
Credit Compiled by Anthony Howard / WUNC

Howell said her club’s Twitter page blew up the day of the incident. Students were tweeting about the history of lynching and the difference between a prank and a hate crime -- topics that some students didn’t want to talk about.

“People, specifically my friends that are white, were more upset about being blamed for it, than about it happening and that really got under my skin,” said Bella Petruccione, a white student at Wakefield starting her senior year.

The day of the incident, our school hosted an open forum. Everybody wanted to go. There wasn’t enough room in the auditorium, so school officials streamed it live on school TV. For Meredith Howell, it was a day to talk about racism.

They were making a joke of it while we were trying to cope with our pain, so that was kind of annoying, too. -Lauren Howell

"I don’t feel like you can say ‘Oh, he hung a black doll and be like, oh he didn't mean it that way’ because of all the history [is] rooted within that,” Howell said.

Howell and her sister Lauren, who are both black, say most students respected the platform, but some didn’t take it seriously.

“This one guy got up there and he was like, ‘Oh I love white girls so yeah,’ and everyone was like laughing,” Meredith Howell said.

Added Lauren Howell: “They were making a joke of it while we were trying to cope with our pain, so that was kind of annoying, too. Like saying one thing cause it’s cool, like listen to black music, participating in black culture, like doing all this stuff...being with black guys, but yet at the same time not being with black problems.”

Principal Bazzell addressed the students at the forum, saying he and administrators would take action.

“Right now we're just trying to have a dialogue and think about solutions as we move forward,” he said.

As a black student at Wakefield High School, you kind of deal with this stuff every day. Right next to our school is a neighborhood called Wakefield Plantation. Last year, students painted swastikas behind our school. It’s a real problem that’s going to take some time to work out.

The Howell sisters plan to team up with other student groups to raise awareness about racism and discrimination through theatre. Petruccione wants to educate students through her writings as senior editor of the school newspaper.

Maybe things will be better this year. Maybe it’ll be the same. As for me, I’m going back to Wakefield this year. It’s still my school.  I’m the junior class president.  I’ve got commitments. I’m planning the prom.