Civil rights activist visits Northeast Middle School

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On Wednesday, March 28, Northeast Middle School students had the privilege of hearing Reverend Jesse Lee Douglas Sr. speak about his experiences fighting alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for civil rights.

Northeast Middle School is located in a diverse area of Mint Hill, and the school welcomes teachers and students from over thirty different nuanced cultures including fifteen unique Hispanic cultures and five different African cultures.  “We truly are a rainbow school,” says Guidance Counselor Brandi Roberts.

Reverend Douglas’ presentation was part of a 3-day “Diversity Week” at Northeast Middle School.  “We’re trying to help combat some of the issues that have been coming up in our population,” says Roberts, citing instances like kids assuming everyone Hispanic is Mexican, throwing around the term “racist” casually,  or not understanding why a Muslim student would wear a headscarf.

“Kids were saying things they didn’t understand,” says Roberts.  “They might use an offensive name, but when confronted, not even know what it meant.”  Roberts set out to empower her students with the knowledge to make better choices.

Reverend Douglas hit home with his no-nonsense tone and frank talk about his own personal experiences.  The Reverend talked at length about what it was like to grow up as an African American in an earlier time.  Personal stories about segregated movie theaters and curfews hit home with Northeast’s students, bringing what they have only read about in history books to life.

Douglas’ personal stories of fighting for civil rights had an impact on Northeast’s students.

“Those are the ones that really took hold on the heart of the kids,” says Roberts.  “He shared the personal stories that really put into perspective how fortunate we are to live in a world where there are so many different cultures and kids have so many opportunities that 40 or 50 years ago we didn’t have.”

The Reverend’s message was ultimately not just about black civil rights but about equality for all.  “We were all in it together to be civil rights activists, not just for African Americans, but for women, for churches,” paraphrases Roberts. “[They] wanted everyone to be equal.”

Reverend Douglas and Northeast’s staff pushed the children to understand that the fight for equal rights for all is not just something from their history books but something that is alive and active today.  “We’re putting facts with reality, and it all applies to today,” says Roberts. “The same struggles from 50, 60 years ago we have today. Schools are integrated, but there are still issues. Our goal was to make kids become aware of who they are and how they can have a serious effect on their tomorrow.”

Students and staff enjoyed a “Lunch and Learn” with Reverend Douglas after his presentation.

“The impact that he had on the kids and the teachers was amazing,” says Roberts, who hopes to continue the momentum of his presentation after spring break.  In the spring, all social studies and science teachers will incorporate a diversity mindfulness lesson into their instruction. Roberts hopes to create more awareness of cultural diversity amongst the staff as well.  Next year, she hopes to host a diversity fair for the community.

Because ultimately, the diverse community of Northeast Middle School is not a “problem” to be solved but a blessing.  Roberts and the staff of Northeast are committed to embracing and celebrating the uniqueness in their community and continuing the Reverend’s fight for everyone to share equal rights.

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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her five-year-old daughter Hannah and her two-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: