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  • Writer's pictureAaron Ferguson

Metamora parents seek unity, education following racist video

Jaylan Williams receives a hug from his aunt, Lazonia Williams, after a press conference where his father, Willie Williams, discussed a racist video sent to his son by four Metamora Township High School football teammates. (David Zalaznik/Journal Star)

Editor's note: This story placed second in the Illinois Press Association's Sports News category.

GERMANTOWN HILLS -- Unity and education were at the forefront of a news conference held Tuesday at Great Oaks Church to address a racist video made by four Metamora freshmen last week.

Superintendent Sean O’Laughlin denounced the video and offered support to the victims, students who created the video and all Metamora students. He also laid out the timeline of events, which was in the school’s release on Monday, that included meetings, separately and together with the individuals and families involved, throughout the week to investigate and address.

O’Laughlin announced that students who were originally suspended from football for one game due to their involvement in the video would not play for Metamora for the rest of the season. The initial ruling was pending resolution of the situation and investigation.

“As we worked with various law enforcement officials and attorneys, we came to realize that the video might not just be racist and insensitive, but also possibly a criminal act,” O’Laughlin said. “When we came to understand that criminal charges could be filed, that changed the severity of the consequences for the students and the applications of our athletic code.”

O’Laughlin said the school district is committed to better education about racism and bullying and working with the families involved.

Willie Williams and Annette Kohlrus each has an African-American son who received the video. Williams and Kohlrus spoke about how they want better education for children and want the community to come together and create change so that this doesn’t happen again.

“We have to be together, we have to be unified as one; as a school, as a community, as a church we all have work to do,” Williams said.

Williams believes that the education expands further than the issue of racism. He has received around 300 messages from people in Germantown Hills, where he lives, who are experiencing bullying and suicidal thoughts.

“This is bigger than the color, and if you just see color in this situation and this is a race issue, you’re wrong,” Williams said. “You’re thinking wrong already. This is about people. This is about love and compassion, and if you don’t have love and compassion for people, you are part of the problem.”

Kohlrus grew up in Germantown Hills and knows several parents of the offending students. She believes there were outside influences that affected the boys, not so much their parents.

“This is all coming from what they hear or what they watch on social media, what they get through YouTube and what they get through music that makes them think that this is OK,” Kohlrus said. “However, it is our job as parents to sit at the family table and say that is not acceptable in our home.”

Following the news conference, Williams said the school needs to listen to him, because he’s experienced racism first-hand. He would like to see the Metamora school district do more than incorporate this incident into its National Bullying Prevention Month programming and make it a more frequent discussion.

“Change the handbook,” said Williams. “The handbook doesn’t mention anything about racism or sexism. Put in the curriculum where they have some courses once a week or bi-monthly about cultural sensitivity, bringing people together and understanding that these words hurt and how it’s a crime. It’s a crime now, and you have to understand that you’re committing a crime. It’s not just about words and freedom of speech and you go on, you can go to jail.”

He said he is committed to working with the administrators, but thinks they are taking “baby steps” and that “we may have to put some more pressure on them.”

During his speech, Williams discussed the racism he felt while serving in the Marine Corps and everywhere he’s lived.

“Honestly, if you’re black, you’re going to deal with this every single day,” Williams said. “I don’t know one black person in my entire life that’s never been called the word nigger. ... If that word makes you feel uncomfortable, good. ... You guys uncomfortable with that word? Try living with it. Tired of hearing about racism? Try living it. Try being black every day.”

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