How These Students Fought The Erasure Of #BlackLivesMatter In Their Yearbook

Vanessa Mewborn and Ariana Coleman BLM article was shut down by principal for being "too controversial."

Photo Credit: Photo: Buckingham Charter Magnet School Yearbook

| March 28 2017,

12:12 am

The audacity of black girls has reached peak levels in these global streets. From the group of young women who stood together to protest racist hair policies at their high school in South Africa, to the recently trending #WeWearWhatWeWant campaign shutting down body shamers, the girls are out here thriving, flourishing, and owning their blackness without apology. Such was the case when Vanessa Mewborn and Ariana Coleman, students at Buckingham Charter Magnet School in Vacaville, California, decided to include an article about the Black Lives Matter movement for their high school yearbook. 

Over several months, the two yearbook staff members conducted interviews with classmates and faculty, administered polls, and gathered a variety of opinions on Black Lives Matter. They compiled that information into an article titled, “Celebrating being American: Clarity on Black Lives Matter.” Included in the article was a photo of students with their fists raised in solidarity with black unity headed by a question that read, “How do you feel about the Black Lives Matter movement?” Unfortunately, as is often the case, embracing their blackness didn't come without resistance. 

The article that Vanessa and Ariana submitted for review, was returned to them virtually unrecognizable. Every reference to Black Lives Matter had been removed and the title was changed to “We are Buckingham.” Told by their principal that the original article was too controversial, the interview question was changed to, “How do you feel about the current world climate that has caused cultural divisions?” The photo of the girls with fists raised was also removed. Refusing to stand for the censorship, the girls alerted the ACLU of Northern California who took on their cause and sent a demand letter to the school district, confronting the illegality of removing Black Lives Matter references from school publications just because the school is afraid of robust conversation. Students have a right to free speech and expression at school including political speech, cultural expression, and speech that a school district may preemptively feel is controversial. Additionally, the California Education Code has made clear that student editors have the right to control their publications.

The school reversed its decision in a letter stating, "after careful review of the issue, we have decided to allow the original yearbook spread prepared by the two students at Buckingham to be published in the 2016-2017 yearbook." In response, Vanessa told the ACLU, "I'm very happy we won, and I'm overjoyed that the law was on our side. This whole situation really brought us together." Ariana said, "This victory is more than the page itself. It's a reflection of who I am and who our ancestors have fought for us to be, to never give up, and to fight for what is right. There is nothing wrong with being proud of who I am and where I come from so yes, Black Lives Matter. All Lives Matter. My voice matters."