For the past four months, an Alabama eighth grader claims a couple of his white classmates have terrorized him because of the color of his skin.
After a video of his aunt went viral on TikTok, many are taking note of the intense racial bigotry the boy experienced that prompted his mother to pull him out of the Louis Pizitz Middle School in the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills, Alabama.
“My son finally broke and collapsed. He said, ‘I thought I could handle it. I thought it would stop if I stayed quiet. I cannot take it anymore,'” Mary Beth Ford said.
Pizitz Middle School is one of the top middle schools in all of Alabama. The school, with a population of about 1,200 students, ranks in the 96th percentile among US News and World Reports ranking of top education centers in the country. The school has a minority student enrollment of 19 percent.
Alabama Media Group reports the boy told his mother he had been called racial slurs by two other boys in gym class, including the “N-word” and “monkey,” since the top of the school year.
“That’s been going on for 16 weeks every single day,” Ford said to local station WVTM, “I couldn’t believe it.”
The mother said she noticed some changes in his behavior but did not realize that it was because her son was being bullied.
“He would be in his room with the room blacked out. He didn’t want to interact with his younger brother much. I could not figure out what it was,” Ford said.
On Friday, Jan. 6, after her son shared the disturbing news, the mom went to the school and conferenced with the school’s administration. After speaking with officials, she pulled her son from the school.
Ford’s outraged sister-in-law took to TikTok to blast the student and his family for the alleged outlandish behavior, saying it was learned from home.
The concerned auntie, Funmi Ford, said, “I am going to try to get through this without crying. So just bear with me. My nephew has been going to Pizitz Middle School for a while now. And we recently found out that while his mom is sending him to school thinking, he’s getting educated, he’s meeting friends, and he’s having a good time. He has been harassed since August of 2022.”
“Every day he goes to school, there are students that yell racial slurs at him. There are students that call him ‘monkey’ that call him the ‘N-word.'”
The aunt zeroed in on one boy she believes is the primary instigator.
“I am going to talk about the family of this one boy because I believe racism isn’t fermented in a bubble. Racism isn’t fermented in a void. Parent, you raised your kid to go to school and be actual terrorists to other people. So, please come to the front,” Funmi Ford said.
Days later, on Wednesday, Jan. 10, Principal Alicia Hunsberger sent a letter to Pizitz Middle School parents addressing Ford and her family’s concerns about racial intolerance.
The principal began the letter by saying, “Our school prioritizes educating every student through the lens of character. We speak often of our core values: character, excellence, and family. We discuss the traits that are representative of these values often. We partner with our families to do this work together. At the core of our mission is the student — every student.”
She addressed the media coverage prompted by Ford’s sister-in-law, writing, “Some of you have been made aware of recent media coverage regarding our school. I cannot control the media, nor will I comment on any specific student at Pizitz. Our students and families have a right to privacy.”
“I will tell you that when information is shared with me regarding our students and behavior that is unacceptable, our team addresses the concern immediately and follows the Code of Conduct outlined by our Board of Education,” the principal added.
Hunsberger said families can be “assured” that the school will “take a thorough approach to responding to student behavior in an effort to discipline with consequence and teaching.”
Ford believes that more has to be done for her to feel like her children will be safe in the school.
“I think for so long we stay quiet thinking that an apology is enough when what we really need from school systems like Vestavia is real and immediate change. And I don’t think that would have happened if I left my son there,” she said, noting that her family is not alone and has received messages of support from other parents of color.
“Moving forward, we have to heal at this point, and my goal is to make sure students are not victims of this type of hate speech,” Ford said.
Ford has now enrolled her son in a new school in Hoover.
“We see so many students that either consider suicide or some other method to relieve themselves of this. And I’m so thankful that my son spoke up,” she said.