Teach Your Children Well: Valedictorian Silenced For Naming Trayvon and Tamir

 

Screenshot of Asmerom motioning to silence grim truth

Speaking Truth To Power 101: Presenting her own compelling, impromptu morality play, Dallas high school valedictorian and Iranian refugee Rooha Haghar insisted on giving the graduation speech she'd written decrying the murders of innocent black people even though her principal had earlier told her it was "too political" and didn't fall within "school guidelines." Haghar chose to defy him: In her speech last week at Emmett J. Conrad High School, she both celebrated the occasion and sought to honor the "many students robbed of this opportunity," addressing "Trayvon, Tamir and all the other children who became victims of injustice." At that point, Principal Temesghen Asmerom gestured to cut off her mic to silence her, a moment - oh irony - that swiftly went viral.

Haghar - her full name was Hagharmehdiabadi - and her family left Iran four years ago when she was 12; as Bahá’í, they suffered daily persecution, and she was prohibited from going to college. The family moved to Dallas'  diverse, refugee-rich area of Vickery Meadow, where Rooha became a top student; she is also an activist, immigration rights advocate with the International Rescue Committee, and accomplished photographer, journalist and graphic designer whose work includes t-shirts reading "Immigrant" and "#EducationIsNotACrime." Much of her work incorporates Farsi text; soon after her arrival in Texas, missing home and being told to adjust, she stenciled a Farsi poem on the back of a denim jacket: “Tell the waves of the ocean to crash into each other slower."

In the days before graduation, Haghar says she was warned by Principal Asmerom - a black refugee from Eritrea - that naming Trayvon, Tamir and other black victims would "incite anger towards white people, a group which according to him experience high levels of discrimination in America." He also said her speech did not fit within school guidelines (which no student has seen) and she'd be sending the wrong message to students that "you will get shot if you are Black in America," which sounds pretty right to us. "His reasoning failed to convince me," she later wrote. "I knew none of the consequences I could possibly face came even slightly close to what the families of the victims have to live with on a daily basis...I never meant to create more divisiveness, but I also feel certain conversations need to be had...I made a conscious choice, and I stand behind that choice."

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After video of the mic cut went viral, realizing she'd been given a more powerful platform than she'd ever dreamed of, Haghar posted her original speech. In it, she apologized to Trayvon, Tamir, "all the kids who got left behind" by poverty, no schooling, war, hunger, mass shootings, persecution, displacement. Along with celebrating, she urged students to recognize "all the work that needs to be done." She also sent a message to those who would silence her: "You always say it's time for youth to lead and for youth voices to be heard. Then listen: innocent children being murdered (are) the product of a failed system (that) will contine to exist if we speak only when our speech falls within  guidelines. If the names Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Jordan Edwards and Michael Brown make you uncomfortable (and) you have chosen to remain silent, you ARE part of the problem."

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