Cenayia Pope Edwards stood her ground against racist group messages that had hateful messages against black students at East Wake HS in Wendell, NC. This Tuesday at the Wake County Public Schools board meeting, her courageous efforts were acknowledged by the superintendent and board members. Cenayia’s efforts were praised, but those standing with Edwards want action and for the students to be held accountable for their hate speech. The school district has not explained how the students in question were punished. The superintendent says she plans to create restorative practices to help change behavior. Cenayia and her family said that they are appreciative of the apologies and praise, but they aren’t satisfied until action is taken against students who used words like “#blacksayer” and “pulling triggers and killing n------s” in a private cellphone group chat the Cenayia was able to infiltrate and expose.
WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Wake County School Board praised the courage of a 14-year-old who posed as a white student to gain access to her classmates' group chat and exposed the racist messages.
Even before Cenayia Pope Edwards walked into Tuesday night's meeting -- most board members already knew who she was.
They had heard about how first-year East Wake High student posed as a white student to gain access to her classmates' group chat -and exposed the racist hate-filled messages inside.
'This is a threat to a whole community, not just one person': Family demands WCPSS punish students after racist group chat exposed
Cenayia's efforts were the first order of business at the meeting.
First, I want to highlight the courage of a single African-American student who was willing to confront the racist comments of others," said WCPSS Superintendent Cathy Moore.
Cenayia celebrated by Moore and the board for calling out her classmates who wrote things like 'Pullin triggers and killin n-----' and 'Kill n----- babies' and who responded to Cenayia with a meme of a cartoon penguin with a gun alongside the message, 'Shutup n-----.'
The small army of people who came to the board meeting in support of Cenayia want more than words.
"And if my 16-year old or 13-year old had to experience what this young lady had to experience in this chat room, I would be horrified and outraged," said Letha Muhammad, a WCPSS parent and Director of the Education Justice Alliance.
The family's pastor, William Newkirk, also addressed the board saying, "There's an elephant in the room of our public schools and the elephant cannot be ignored."
The community advocate who helped the family bring attention to the racist chat group spoke as well.
"The first step to rectifying this situation is accountability," said Kerwin Pittman, Executive Director of R.R.E.P.S (Recidivism Reduction Education Program Services). "Someone has to be held accountable so this doesn't happen again."
WCPSS maintained most of the students in the group chat were from Johnston County Schools. JCPS told ABC11 that it has addressed the situation, but won't detail how students were punished.
And while Wake said privacy rules bar the district from discussing punishments as well -- some board members suggested some district policies on hate speech need to be tougher.
"I trust our teachers, our principals and staff to protect our children. I've met them and I trust them. But we must all do our part to say this is racism and it isn't ok," said Heather Scott, whose board seat includes East Wake High School.
Board member Monika Johnson-Hostler added, "We can have the best intentions. Everybody at this table has the best intentions. But, the impact has still been harmful."
The superintendent and board chair spoke of doubling down on the district's efforts for restorative practices - to change behavior rather than a simple punishment.
"Do I have faith in them? I don't," said Cenayia's mother Cecelia Edwards who also serves as an Army recruiter at her daughter's school. "Thanks for the apology and we appreciate it because it hasn't been done publicly. But do I believe in it? I'll believe it when I see it."
Cenayia said she appreciated the apology, but is still waiting for justice. "I felt really good (to have been apologized to)," she said. "And I now I look forward to what is going to be done. I want the schools to be held accountable for what they didn't do."
Cenayia and her mom and dad left WCPSS Headquarters having done something that is not always easy -- getting the district's attention. But what they want is some measurable accountability for the school's principal and the East Wake students involved.