December 3, 2019
Tags: Anytown, Community, Youth Leadership,
On November 18, 2019, Westboro Baptist Church protested at three Guilford County schools: Guilford College, UNCG, and High Point Central High School.
In response, several High Point Central ANYTOWNers (including Matheus Barbee, Iqra Khan, and Thao Nyugen) organized their Student Inclusivity Committee to form a counter-protest. (Click here to learn more about NCCJ’s ANYTOWN program.)
We spoke with Matheus Barbee (ANYTOWN 2018) about his experience:
How did you feel when you heard Westboro Baptist was coming to HPC?
“I think that we were very shocked. There was a lot of confusion and nervousness for sure. The idea of a hate group coming to campus can be frightening, but I knew that we couldn’t let someone inside or outside our school divide us.”
Why did you decide to take action?
“I think a big part of our motivation to do something to demonstrate unity, that we are like a family. An outside group was trying to put a wedge between us, and we wanted to do something to counteract that and show that we are together and here for one another. We also wanted to make sure this message carried on throughout the week, throughout the school year and on into the future, that no force inside or outside of our school would drive us apart.”
Describe how you and the other students came together.
“It was a difficult process. The Student Inclusivity Committee worked to pull students together from all the campus student organizations, but we had many scheduling conflicts. We started to gain traction by promoting through an Instagram group to get people connected. We hosted our first meeting about 6 days before Westboro arrived. 60 students from all different backgrounds, ethnicities, gender expressions and grade levels came together in support of one another and talked about what we wanted to see on campus from here on. We made posters with positive messages, wrote affirmations with chalk on sidewalk, and decided on a color to show our unity: Yellow (to represent light -and it’s the perfect backdrop for rainbows 😊.) We wanted this to be an opportunity to show that ‘the Bison is united, would never be divided.’ ”
How did you and the other students you were working with feel as you were standing outside that morning?
“It was so beautiful and exciting. I never even read the Westboro Baptist signs because I was so enveloped in the group of students that were supporting each other against something that was trying to divide us. Standing up against a group that detests student autonomy, detests student choice and voice, we showed them that students can absolutely stand for what they believe in, and that young people want to and are proud to do it. When we turned our backs on their hate, linked arms and walked away, showed them that we see each other, and we weren’t going to let them distract us from what we are here to do. It was completely empowering.”
Did ANYTOWN prepare you or empower you in any way for this?
“Absolutely! ANYTOWN has changed my perspective of what it looks like to be an activist in the community and helping people’s voices be heard. NCCJ modeled me to lead something like this. It’s scary and intimidating to face down a hate group but I remember the promise I made at ANYTOWN that I wasn’t going to be quiet anymore, and that I would counteract the things that I didn’t stand for in my community. The support of NCCJ helped me bring others together to make a stand.”
If you could say one thing to your classmates at HPC, what would it be?
“WE ARE BISON! And there is no force that is going to divide us. There is nothing that can wedge a gap between us if we see each other and stand united. ”
If you could say one thing to the community, what would it be?
“My deepest gratitude goes out to any person that got out of bed to be there with us, super early in the morning to stand in the cold and support us. Seeing our community come together like that was beautiful. Thank you! I’d also like to say that teenagers are strong, and we really do care more than we let on. We have a passion to create a better community and we truly are ready to work with you to create a future that is more inclusive, productive, and united.”
Sidewalk affirmation photo taken by NCCJ staff. All other photos courtesy of Ivan Saul Cutler.