The Triangle Tribune has named an Orange County parent its 2017 “Newsmaker of the Year.”
Latarndra Strong founded the Hate-Free Schools Coalition. The coalition’s Facebook page says its mission is to eliminate racial and ethnic intimidation in the Orange County school system.
“It feels unbelievable, because I’m just an everyday mom – just an everyday mom, who wrote a letter,” Strong said Tuesday.
In 2016 when ferrying her daughter to and from Orange High School, Strong glimpsed Orange High students openly wearing small articles of clothing such as belt buckles, and even some shirts, which displayed images of the Confederate battle flag. The sight troubled her.
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Several days after noticing the clothing, Strong spotted a student-driven pickup truck flying a Confederate flag.
She wrote a letter to school leadership.
That letter eventually led to a meeting held among Strong, Orange High School Principal Eric Yarbrough, an Orange High social worker and an Orange County Schools social worker, Strong said.
“The social workers were people of color, who I thought would have had an appreciation, or an understanding, of not wanting a symbol of hatred – displayed around people’s kids,” Strong said.
The meeting did not lead to decisive action to prevent future displays of Confederate symbols.
So, Strong said, she formed the Hate-Free Schools Coalition. Its first action was to discover just how many parents there were in Orange County sharing similar concerns over race relations in the district.
“At first, we all just discussed the issues,” Strong said. “The more I talked to people, the more I realized there was systemic denial … the leadership was in complete denial, that there was even a problem.”
Strong said she and other coalition members came to realize there were indeed social barriers interfering with many Orange County students’ school experiences – barriers stemming from racial tensions.
Coalition members spoke to the school board over many months, sometimes for an hour or more.
Only after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, did the board act.
On Aug. 14, 2017, the Monday after weekend bloodshed in Charlottesville, the board unanimously adopted a new student dress code banning the Confederate flag, Ku Klux Klan symbols and clothing and swastikas from all district schools.
The following week, Orange County Schools announced the makeup of its new Equity Task Force and a website.
What’s Strong up to now? Simple, relaxing in some wintertime, West Coast sun, she said.
She attended the Rose Bowl this past week.