Ex-Cowboy Russell Maryland Tackles Racism in Texas School District
After winning three Super Bowl rings with the Dallas Cowboys, defensive tackle Russell Maryland felt at home in Texas and brought his family back to the Dallas suburb of Southlake when he retired from the NFL in 2001. .
However, when a video of white high school students from his local public high school sing the n-word at a party went viral, Maryland realized its community needed to do better.
All three Maryland children attended school in the Carroll Independent School District (ISD). The district has some of the richest and best performing public schools in the state – Carroll High School has a 100% graduation rate and only 1.4% of students in the district are economically disadvantaged.
School district statistics also include a dramatic racial disparity. That’s 63% white, which is more than double the state average, and just 2% African Americans. Maryland said her daughter suffered racism from other students in the district while attending Carroll High School.
“My daughter and a few African American friends of hers were in a classroom when a kid said, ‘Hey, I think I want to stab some black girls today,’” Maryland told USA TODAY Sports . “The administrators at the time handled it well and we had no further issues with it, but my family was lucky.”
In the past, Maryland has been the famous face of Carroll ISD, helping to raise over $ 300,000 for the district over a three-year period. After the viral video, he became the famous face of fighting a culture of racism and homophobia in the public school system.
“I never thought I would be the only one in this fight,” Maryland said. “It was stronger than any two-team Washington or New York Giants football team I have ever faced. It was a tough fight.
The movement to improve diversity education in the district did not start out as difficult as it later became. Maryland was originally invited to serve on an advisory board called the District Diversity Council in 2018 by a school board member whose son played with Maryland on the soccer team. He said the school board had initially positioned itself as invested in improving the culture of the district.
“He made a sincere plea, so I thought about the time,” Maryland said. ” He had tears in his eyes. My wife was there and she said, ‘There may be some negative reactions after we do this thing; are you ready for this backlash? He nodded and told me I’m ready.
However, the board later changed course after Maryland and the DDC submitted their Cultural competences action plan (CCAP), which has defined objectives and strategies to improve diversity and inclusion in the neighborhood. The group spent 16 months developing the plan and initially planned to present it in April 2020, but as of June 2021, it still had not been adopted by the school board.
The issue of diversity education and inclusion in Carroll ISD has become “political football” according to Maryland. Amid nationwide racial justice movements in the wake of the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd, white parents in the school district began to complain about the DDC plan, associating it with other groups like Black Lives Matter and the Southlake Anti-Racist Coalition, which called for bigger changes to the school district than what the DDC was proposing.
CCAP was not the first time that the white parents of Carroll ISD have mobilized against the inclusion of minorities. Maryland said that when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, there was movement against his inauguration speech being played in schools even though the speeches of several other former presidents of both political parties had been played. .
As the backlash continued, state and national groups became involved. The Texas GOP president publicly opposed the plan, and members of other conservative organizations, including the Tea Party, anti-LGBTQ + group Southlake Families, and a former National Rifle Association spokesperson also campaigned against the plan. the DDC.
“We are just a microcosm of what I believe is happening nationally,” Maryland said. “In the last two years people have become more emboldened to say racist things, to do racist things. It has become political, and unfortunately people suffer when things get politicized.
The recent wave of legislation to block critical race theory being taught in K-12 schools also creates new challenges for the Maryland council and their plan. Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently signed a new law which limits the ability of public school teachers to discuss systemic oppression or its historical implications, and it specifically bans the teaching of The New York Times Project 1619.
Critical Race Theory is an advanced academic concept that is rarely taught outside of law schools and post-secondary education, but the basic action elements of CCAP, such as teaching students to recognize their implicit prejudices and stereotypes on minority groups, may be considered prohibited subjects by Texas law.
Maryland said although the wider political backlash was frustrating, it was deeply hurt and surprised by negative responses to the plan from friends and community members.
“I am very disappointed when people choose to remain silent and not stand up for my children as I have stood up for theirs for over two decades that my family has been here,” he said. “I had a guy that I considered a friend, a good friend that I train with, go to the school board to say it was a non-existent problem and we don’t have racism at Carroll ISD because that these children always do well on trials. It’s just baffling to me, some of the views and these outright lies.
At present, the status of the Cultural Competence Action Plan remains unclear. When the DDC finally officially presented the plan in August 2020, the school board voted to receive it rather than approve it, so the board is stuck in a waiting game. Maryland said the board member who begged it to sit on the DDC voted against even receiving the plan. An attempt to involve the Ministry of Justice in the mediation was ignored by the district.
“The next steps are just to keep fighting,” Maryland said. “I’m going to keep doing what I need to do to protect these kids, because I’m tired of stories of kids coming back and saying, ‘Man, I wish I had someone to fight for me. I wish I had someone to speak for me at a time when I couldn’t speak for myself. ‘”
Contact Emily Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ eaadams6.