EASTHAM — A banner posted in the main administration building at Nauset Regional High School to celebrate Black History Month has upset some students because it includes the message “All Lives Matter.”
The banner, which in larger lettering says “Black History Month,” was put up near the school’s main office on Feb. 1, said Danessa Luster, a senior from Provincetown. The next day, she said, she and her cousin Rogene Waite, also a senior, went to Principal Patrick Clark and expressed their objection to the “All Lives Matter” message. Both students are Black.
“We had to explain to him why it was bad,” said Luster. “My cousin and I both talked to him and said it was like a kick in the face. I asked him if he could take it down. He said, ‘I’m going to look at it.’ But I felt like he wasn’t really understanding.”
Luster said that she returned the next day and the sign was still there.
Another Nauset senior, Isabelle Robicheau of Wellfleet, sent a photograph of the sign to the Independent, writing, “I was horrified when I saw a banner posted in the main entrance of the school stating ‘All Lives Matter.’ All of the students were talking about it and are dumbfounded about why it was put up for Black History Month.”
On Monday, Principal Clark told the Independent that the sign had been put up by the school’s Black Students Union and its faculty adviser, Maura Kerse-McMillin. He said, “I didn’t know there was any controversy about it. I’m not quite sure what the matter is.” He said the Black Students Union had done a nice job of decorating the school for Black History Month, celebrating “the theme of inclusion.”
Asked whether any students had come to him to complain about the sign, he said, “I don’t know.”
Also on Monday, Kerse-McMillin, the Black Students Union adviser, told the Independent that she and her students had ordered and put up two banners for Black History Month. But she said she hadn’t seen the one near the administration office because she teaches at the opposite end of the school.
When asked whether she had put up a sign that said “All Lives Matter,” Kerse-McMillin said, “The whole month is about Black consciousness. Why would we put that up?”
But the next day, Kerse-McMillin had a different explanation. She said she had in fact ordered the sign and that the president of the Black Students Union had put it up. She defended the message.
“It says, ‘All Lives Matter,’ which is the theme of inclusivity,” said Kerse-McMillin. “It’s not the kind of retaliatory yard sign that people put up. Everyone is fine with it. If it had been put up as a retaliatory message it would not have been OK.”
Orianna Porter, the president of Nauset’s Black Students Union, did not respond to an email message seeking comment.
Nauset School Supt. Brooke Clenchy said Tuesday that she had talked to Clark and Kerse-McMillin about the sign and that “they thought the statement was fine — it was a good message, not a bad message. It was not seen as a sign of disrespect.”
Donna Walker, Provincetown’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, said the slogan “All Lives Matter” was “a reaction to the message behind ‘Black Lives Matter.’ People need to understand this is not an attempt to say that some lives are more important than others. This is a way of highlighting the fact that this group of people has had to face violence and brutality.
“ ‘All Lives Matter’ negates the experience of Black people,” Walker said.
“I am surprised,” said Ngina Lythcott, a Black resident of Provincetown, “that when the students went to complain, the administrators did not see this as an opportunity to engage them. Saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ implies to some people that other lives don’t matter. In fact, it’s a sort of crying in the desert: ‘Don’t Black lives matter, too?’
“The appropriate response,” Lythcott added, “is not calling people out. That never brings people over from the other side. The appropriate response is calling people over — using that as a teachable moment.”