Students protest Hillbilly Day’ at North Gaston

September 29, 2010
Amanda Memrick

When others wore bib overalls and straw hats, Jocelyn Santiago donned black.

The North Gaston High senior was part of a group of students who dressed in black Wednesday to protest perceived racism and other issues at the school. Wednesday marked Hillbilly Day during the schools Spirit Week before homecoming.

We got our point across  no violence, no nothing, Santiago said. Were not trying to start trouble. We just wanted to get our thoughts out there.

About 75 students of different ethnic backgrounds participated in the protest, she said.

A group of students feared Hillbilly Day would cause trouble at the school, she said. Hillbilly Day used to be called Country Day and wasnt a part of Spirit Week last year. Some students say taking away Country Day prompted the hanging of a Confederate flag on the flagpole last October.

The day was changed to Hillbilly Day to make sure the intent of the day was known, said senior Brooke Picklesimer.

Student Council met and voted on the themes for each day of Spirit Week, said Picklesimer, who is student body secretary. The themes that received the most votes won.

We felt like changing the name would change the connotation of the day, Picklesimer said. I just think with the incident we had last year I dont think we could re-call it Country Day.

Picklesimer wore a pair of overalls that were a couple of sizes too big, a piece of rope around her waist, pigtails and painted on freckles.

At first people didnt understand why students were wearing black, but Santiago said she told teachers their purpose after first period.

Santiago asked students to write down all the things the school needed to improve and filled up four pages of paper front and back. The most common response had to do with racism, she said.  Santiago also started a Facebook page asking what could be done to improve the school.

Santiago saw just a few students wearing hats with Confederate flags, a big change from Country Day in years past, she said.

Its not a bad idea to have Country Day, Santiago said. We just didnt want it to be handled the wrong way.

Senior Devante Long, who is African-American, opted to stay home from school Wednesday because of Hillbilly Day.

I didnt even feel like dealing with that this year, Long said.

He was suspended from school the day after a Confederate flag was taped to the flagpole. He and two other students were suspended for a verbal altercation and causing a disruption. The fight apparently happened when two white kids approached Long and one of them told him to take off his President Barack Obama T-shirt and referred to the president by using the N-word. Long countered that they should take off their shirts bearing the Confederate flag.

I think they should take that day away and give them something else, Long said.

School officials denied The Gazettes request to visit the school Wednesday to cover Hillbilly Day, but Santiago and Picklesimer both said no fights occurred and the day ran smoothly.

 Its not a bad school. Were really smart kids, Santiago said. Its just some kids that ruin it for everybody.

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