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Activist Bree Newsome disinvited from speaking at Asheville Middle
Thursday, 05 October 2017 10:55

From Staff Reports

A public uproar has erupted after Charlotte-based activist Bree Newsome was disinvited from speaking at Asheville Middle School during the last week of September.

The event was canceled due to a school policy on visiting speakers.

In the aftermath, hundreds of comments were placed on Facebook by fellow activists, members of the community and supporters — mostly expressing outrage and disappointment at the school administration for denying Newsome the opportunity to share her story with Asheville students.

However, Newsome still was scheduld to visit Asheville on Sept. 29, speaking from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at A-B Tech’s Ferguson Auditorium at an event that is open to the public.

And on Sept. 30 she will attend the opening of the new art exhibition at the YMI. The exhibit features portraits – by artist Robert Shetterly — of civil rights leaders.

There also will an unveiling — at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 30 — of a portrait of Newsome, who was arrested after she climbed a 30-foot flagpole on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse in 2015 — and removed a Confederate battle flag that was flying. Her act occurred 10 days after a church shooting left nine black parishioners dead in Charleston, S.C.

The photo of her action appeared in the news media and social media around the world — and made her a public figure.

Newsome’s efforts have catapulted her into the role as a leader spearheading a nationwide movement to remove symbols of the Confederacy from public space. 

Ellie Richard, who organized the exhibition, expressed her objections to the disinvitation of Newsome to the Asheville City Board of Education on Sept. 25. However, it was to no avail, as the board took no action following her comments.

Newsome now travels around the country, sharing her family’s history of slavery. She also works as a writer, director and consultant.

Asheville’s school policy — stating that it does not allow speakers who advocate for unconstitutional or illegal acts — has led to a communitywide response in defense of Newsome.

Carmen Ramos-Kennedy, president of the Asheville-Buncombe County NAACP, expressed shock that Newsome’s school speaking event was canceled because of her arrest involving civil disobedience. She contended that Newsome’s message was worth hearing, regardless of her arrest.

Asheville City Schools did not comment on the matter, other than referring to its policy on visiting speakers, which states:

“In no instance shall a speaker who advocates unconstitutional or illegal acts or precedures be permitted to address students and no presentation or activities considered inconsistent with constitutional requirements or other applicable legal standards will be permitted.”

Ashley Thublin, communications director at Asheville City Schools, told local news media that the policy refers to Newsome’s brush with the law.

In the meantime, Catherine McClain, head of Hanger Hall School for Girls, said she would be honored to have Newsome speak to her students.

McClain said that simply having an arrest record should not be the ultimate criteria in deciding whether someone should be allowed to speak to students. She added that an arrest record does not necessarily lessen the value of what one might have to say.



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