At Yorktown, a New Kind of Banner

Seniors+Shelton+Kwiterovich%2C+Galilee+Ambellu+and+Kara+Kovarovics+stand+next+to+the+BLM+banner.+

Joseph Ramos

Seniors Shelton Kwiterovich, Galilee Ambellu and Kara Kovarovics stand next to the BLM banner.

Joseph Ramos, Sentry Head Editor

A student-made Black Lives Matter (BLM) banner was put up at the school Friday following George Floyd’s killing by police, massive national protests and the recent offensive Class of 2020 banner

Created by seniors Shelton Kwiterovich, Kara Kovarovics and Galilee Ambellu, the BLM banner is located atop the grass hill near the cafeteria doors and is visible to cars driving down Yorktown Boulevard. The seniors said they feel the banner’s message better represents the school’s outlook on current events than what the previous Class of 2020 banner might suggest. 

“[We want] to show that our class truly cares and what happened before wasn’t reflective of what we believe …. We want something reflective of our community and we want something that lets everyone feel involved,” Kwiterovich said. 

Permission to place the banner on school grounds came from Principal Kevin Clark. Clark, who issued a second apology Thursday regarding the handling of the first banner, told the seniors he thinks the new banner “is a great idea” and made note of it in his Thursday letter to the school’s community. 

About 175 students signed their names around the words Black Lives Matter between nine a.m. and one p.m. Thursday underneath the school’s Senior Lot entrance. Three URL links to resources for supporting the BLM movement were also placed around the banner. A large bottle of hand sanitizer was provided, but students were encouraged to bring their own pens and most wore face masks. 

To those that came, displaying the student body’s solidarity with the BLM movement, both nationally and locally, was a top priority. Freshman Katrin Bergesen echoed this sentiment when explaining why she signed. 

“This banner is showing that [the past banner] doesn’t represent everyone that attends the school …. [Signing] is a great way to show support for the black people in our community and support towards the movement. There is a lot of inequality even just in our own county and I think we all need to show support towards the cause,” Bergesen said. 

Other students, like senior Scott Samples, acknowledged that real change will take more than a single signature, but the banner is still a building block to future progress. 

“I couldn’t be silent. I felt that even though this is a small gesture, it is still a good thing to do …. [Progress is] small steps like this sign. If we take it step by step, we’re going to get to where everyone wants and what things should be like,” Samples said. 

During the banner signing, students also brought black and white spray paint to use on the Senior Lot rock. After coating the rock in black, the students sprayed messages like “Black Lives Matter,” “Justice for George Floyd” and “Text JUSTICE to 668366” in white. 

Senior Amelia Wilbur, one of the painters, said the messages further display student support of BLM since the rock is typically used as an extension of the student body’s voice. 

“This rock is very sentimental to everyone. We all paint this rock for senior nights or just in general and it is known to the school, so [painting it] shows that the students care,” Wilbur said. 

While the school’s community has largely shown support for this new banner, displaying the words “Black Lives Matter” on school grounds has not always been widely encouraged. 

In February 2017, school administrators asked the Sister Circle club to take down a BLM banner they had put up in the atrium following student and parent complaints. Meant to celebrate Black History Month, the banner was deemed “disruptive” by administrators after “unacceptable comments” were made by students. 

The three years between banners saw a widening of support for the Black Lives Matter cause and a number of mass protests in response to continued police brutality. To seniors Taylor Francis and Anu Desai, these developments partly explain why the new banner has faced minimal pushback so far. 

“Now that there are a lot of different groups that are supporting the movement, I feel like it should be accepted more in the community versus freshman year,” Francis said.

“People are watching the protests and that has made them a lot more active than they were in freshman year in terms of maturity,” Desai said. 

For a school whose student body is 65.8% white and 5.9% black, racial achievement gaps have a significant impact on education. In 2018, white students were 2.1 times more likely to take an AP course than black students, and black students were 11.7 times more likely to be suspended than white students. 

Max Patterson, a junior who came to sign, said he hopes the banner will serve as a reminder that these issues exist on a large scale at the school. 

“In the Yorktown community, a lot of oppression is overlooked because we’re a predominantly white school. I feel like [the banner] will help show this is a bigger issue. I know we don’t have to deal with it because we don’t have as many black students, but it’s still an issue within the school,” Patterson said. 

To address the school’s achievement gap, Principal Clark, in his Thursday letter, announced a new Yorktown Equity Team, which will “examine data, review policies and practices, and promote institutional changes that will close opportunity gaps that have led to academic gaps at Yorktown.” Students, staff and parents that “represent the diversity of the school” are invited to apply.   

It is unclear what the Equity Team’s scope and authority, if any, will be. However, Galilee Ambellu, one of the banner’s creators, said seeking out black student perspectives, like the Team says it intends to do, is key to any form of improvement. 

“If the administration reached out to students, then they would feel more comfortable expressing their views. Since it’s a predominantly white school, you feel bad if you say something that might be controversial …. Most important is giving [black students] a platform to speak,” Ambellu said. 

To implement the desired institutional changes, long bureaucratic debates in School Board meetings and principals’ front offices likely lie ahead. The heavy wheels of progress require quite a push; actions like the banner, though, give an initial shove. 

As senior Jackson Pope noted, the mass of signatures that covered the banner’s white material on Thursday is an example of improvement itself. The names, etched by multiple colored pens in a variety of shapes and sizes, represent the students as a collective front, free of the previous banner’s division.  

“There’s no mention of student skin color on the banner. The names on it just represent students as a whole, as one community and not as individual races. It’s not like the banner from a few weeks ago, where it groups people by color. Here, we are all together and unified,” Pope said.