White Principal at Maryland School Used Racial Slur During Black History Month Assembly

Principal apologizes, says she's having conversations with people who were offended

A white principal at a Maryland private school admitted using the "N-word" during a Black History Month assembly.

The mother of a student at New Hope Academy in Hyattsville told News4 she’s upset about Principal Joy Morrow’s use of the word last week while addressing students.

“And during her speech she referred to the ‘N-word’ but she didn't say the ‘N-word,’” the mother said. “She said the word full out and she referenced it three times throughout her speech.”

Morrow said she did not mean to use the word maliciously and was using it to make a point while explaining the racism she witnessed growing up.

“These are hard but necessary conversations that need to take place,” she said. “I wanted them to understand how this word was used. We followed this up with conversations because some of my students were uncomfortable.”

In a release sent to News4, Morrow said the keynote speaker had canceled just before the assembly, so she offered to the organizer of the assembly to step in and recreate a talk she gave 25 years ago.

“I’ve apologized,” Morrow told News4. “I look at it and think I could have handled that differently. My approach may not have been the best, but I am a passionate educator. Maybe my words were ill chosen and I owned that.”

“But please don’t miss what I was trying to say,” she added.

“In a perfect world, she would see that that is so unacceptable,” the upset mother said. “It may be time to retire and get new leadership in.”

Morrow said she will continue to have conversations with people who were offended.

Morrow's complete statement:

Last Thursday New Hope Academy had scheduled its annual Black History Assembly. The keynote speaker canceled 40 minutes before the program was to start. There was no one to speak, but neither Mrs. Muhammad, who had organized the program, or I wanted to send the message to the children that their efforts to prepare their songs and entertainment was not valued, and that Black History was something we could easily dismiss…. So I offered to recreate a talk I gave 25 years ago about "What Dr. Martin Luther King’s teaching meant in my life." Mrs. Muhammad said, ”Go for it,” and so I did. In hind-sight she did not know the details of my talk or I'm sure she would have advised me to make some changes.

We had the grades PreK-12th in attendance and after the entertainment was over, we released all but the students except those in grades 6-12.

I prefaced my talk by drawing the kids close around me, we had a prayer and I explained to them that I would be giving them a testimony of how God worked in my life, through Dr. King's teachings. I told them that we were family and I was going to speak intimately and personally with them. I also told them I would use the “N-word” in explaining what I experienced growing up in an all white, racist community. I had never given this talk at NHA before, nor shared my background in this way before.

I went on to share how I had grown up in Dubuque, Iowa, where they were still burning crosses in the 1970’s. I explained the language that was used to engender fear, hatred, and loathing of African Americans in a child being raised in a very racist environment. This was where I used the word N-word to explain what was said to me a as a child, and the emotional fear it engendered. I talked about how such language is used to transmit hate to a young child, and shared about many personal experiences and my course.

As an educator, we try to choose our words to have the greatest impact. In hindsight, the N-word instead acted to distract some of the children rather than impacting the students to understand the negative power this word had on shaping a young child. For this reason and others I regret using it.

I believe it is a form of child abuse when a parent teaches their child to be racist and to hate. Such beliefs teach fear and hate which cripples and twists the nature and pure heart of children. And it takes extraordinary efforts on the part of children raised in such hatred to be able to get past their fears and the clutches of those cult-like beliefs. And it is only through opportunities to dialogue honestly and deeply and build true, deep friendships with people of color, that such a person can fully get past the way they were raised.

I also deeply believe we are raising up the next generation of leaders. Here at NHA we work to be transparent and encourage the students, teachers and parents to talk about everything. Debate all sides of the issues, so our students have the broadest possible perspective as they make their own choices in life, and shape their personal belief system. I don’t want any topic to be taboo. And I want our students to be part of the solution, and to do so, they need to be able to understand the way the problem is perpetuated and what it takes to heal it...and it all needs to be discussed openly.

As a result of my talk, I had many students who thanked me. But it quickly became clear that some children were troubled by the use of the N-word even in the context it was used in. So we gathered groups and had rap sessions with the students and teachers. Which produced some amazing discussions. In each of those sessions I sincerely apologized that my use of the word made them feel disrespected, and detracted from the message I was trying to convey. I was grateful these conversations were held. I also spoke with a number of teachers and parents who had questions, comments and various opinions about the assembly. None of these conversations were easy, but I believe all of them were valuable.

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