Photo from Twitter of those turning their backs
The scene at Florida's historically black Bethune-Cookman University commencement was electrifying: Betsy DeVos, the rich dabbler who bought her unqualified way into a job as Secretary of Education despite her history of seeking to dismantle public schools and replace them with charter schools that leave behind kids of color, a.k.a in Devos-world "pioneers of choice" - was attempting to speak. It did not go well, as could be expected given the 50,000-signature petition opposing her, another petition urging the resignation of the school president who invited her, and widespread outrage at her appearance. Video of the stunning event showed about half the 380 graduates defiantly turning their backs as DeVos began a speech quickly drowned out by a roar of boos and chants; when the president scolded students and told them to "choose which way you want to go," they turned back again, to cheers.
Since then, cheers from the community have followed them. On alumnae Facebook pages and under hashtags like #BacksToBetsy and #BethuneCookman, the grads who stood up against being used as props have been hailed for their courage "in the face of assumed power." Wrote one admirer, "An open letter signed by over 200 black professors likewise praised their refusal "to acquiesce in the face of threats and calls for complicity. Your actions fit within a long tradition of Black people fighting back against those who attack our institutions and our very lives." Confronted with the insult of a speaker they knew didn't speak for them, the professors wrote, "You turned it around, figuratively and literally... You took your graduation back to honor yourselves. To honor your founder. To honor our ancestors. To honor us all...You are the best of us."
— Bernie - True Leader (@FeelTheBern11) May 11, 2017
— #LaquanMcDonald (@ifuaskmee) May 11, 2017