When Pastor Michelle Thomas of Holy and Whole Life Changing Ministries woke up at home Tuesday morning, the last thing she expected to see was her car vandalized. Around 8 a.m. Nov 15, her son called her to see that their Range Rover looked like it had been shot with a BB gun.
Thomas thought it might be neighborhood kids, as her Lansdowne neighborhood had problems in the past with kids breaking tail lights and rummaging through cars, but the timing and the type of work she does made her wonder. Then she found out that two other neighborhood cars had been vandalized.
“As I observed that one was a minority family, I was once again struck that this might not be as innocent or as random as I would like for it to be. This could be a targeted situation and that’s unfortunate,” Thomas said. “You shouldn’t have to feel this way. You shouldn’t have to feel suspicious or wonder ‘will I be a target today.'”
Although the national election is over, divisive rhetoric has flared, and incidents have been reported around the nation of minority students being called racial slurs or disparaged in other ways.
“It would be different if it weren’t happening anywhere else, but African Americans have been targeted all over the country since last Tuesday,” Thomas said.
Her children have also had to deal with this directly since the election. Thomas’ daughter was told by another third grade classmate that they couldn’t play together because she only played with white kids, Thomas said.
Her daughter’s teacher didn’t seem to know how to respond to the incident because the student who made the racist statement was Hispanic, said Thomas. As far as Thomas is concerned, hate — whether self hate, race hate or other identity-based hate — is learned at home, but when it manifests in schools, it has to be addressed.
“You have to deal with that action, that oppressive action, so to her to kind of blow that off was hurtful to my daughter. These are the things we’re facing in our community. They are real, and when it’s a matter of public safety, you have to start talking about it.”
Individual schools set the climate they want, Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Public Information Officer Wayde Byard said. Additionally, there are county-wide peer-to-peer counseling and anti-bullying programs available. Schools are now trying to reinforce what they already do to ensure that students respect one another, Byard said.
“What we’ve heard anecdotally is that people are repeating unfortunate things they’ve heard adults say, usually in a humorous or sarcastic manner and we’re just correcting them when that happens,” Byard said. “So we’re trying to get (students) to see that we’re a very multicultural community and everyone’s point of reference is not the same.”
LCPS has a no-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying. There is no formal policy on hate speech and creating one would be up to the county’s School Board. Thomas would like to see that happen. Until then, she considers any promises of an inclusive environment and no tolerance for hate to be little more than lip-service.
“If there’s no policy, there’s no precedent on how we deal with this, so it’s basically lip-service which we see from the schools a lot. When they’re finished with their lip service, you see kids committing suicide and other ugly things because they have no policy or they’re not enforcing their policy,” Thomas said. “So some of these kids are so bullied, they’re so ostracized that it’s difficult for them to cope. So it’s not good enough to just say, ‘we’re not tolerating that.’ What does that mean for my child? What does that mean for that little black boy who’s being called the N-word?”
Thomas’ church is celebrating its 10th anniversary on Nov. 19 with a Gala of Hope. She believes it’s up to the faith community to lead the way to community healing and unity.
“Divisiveness is not easily mended,” Thomas said. “We have to intentionally humanize each other.”
Thomas hopes that by bringing different groups together to listen to each other before defending their own positions, and finding common interests and goals in serving the community, that unity and healing will be possible. She wants her church gala to contribute to that approach.
Sterling’s ADAMS Islamic Center is also hosting a joint prayer service Nov. 18 at the Masjid Muhammad in Washington, DC. The interfaith service is meant to bring people together and raise awareness of the rise of anti-Muslim attacks following the election, according to a release from ADAMS.
“We have to find a common denominator, which is humanity and love,” Thomas said.