Superintendent says he ‘operates as a scared human being’
The neverending threat of racism is why Superintendent Donald E. Fennoy II—leader of the nation’s 10th largest school district—says that he lives “in constant fear of triggering something in other people to call the police on me.”
The death of George Floyd spurred Fennoy to deliver a riveting address to The School District of Palm Beach County school board (see video below) in which he revealed the deep anxieties he suffers as a black father and educator.
“I can tell you right now that I am hurt, I am devastated, I am scared,” Fennoy said. “I am a lot of things that I have never really articulated.”
Because of these lifelong fears, he is careful about what he wears when he goes for morning walks.
“I’m conscious of, do I wear a hooded sweatshirt because it’s dark outside and I might walk up on neighbors and they don’t recognize me and they might call the police,” Fennoy, “or people get scared of me because I’m 6-foot-4 and black and I don’t have my suit on.”
That terror extends to his 11-year-old son, whom Fennoy says he worries about constantly. His son has been taught to be polite and respectful so people in the community know he belongs and won’t be afraid of him or call the police when he rides his bike, Fennoy says.
“I want my child to survive the encounter,” Fennoy said. “I want him to come home so that if something happens, I can call my attorney or I can call friends at the sheriff’s office.”
Moving forward, he encouraged other black leaders and parents to open up about racism and the fear and anxiety they’ve endured. He said he understands the motivations of young black people who have been protesting but also worries deeply about their safety.
He also said he is committed to leading his district in battling racism.
“I hope that we don’t just take this as another dead black man in America and move on with our lives,” Fennoy said. “I do want you to know that in spite of my position, my power and my privilege, I do operate in this world as a scared human being.”