Image Credit : Sarah Kearney / Facebook
The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
In a nearly four hour Sumner County School Board meeting held October 18th, 2022, community stakeholders and parents passionately shared their views over a book that was challenged by a parent for espousing divisive concepts.
At the beginning of the school year, Sarah Kearney’s son brought home a copy of A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliot and illustrated by Noa Denmon that he found in the picture book section of Jack Anderson Elementary School in Sumner County.
In a Facebook post on August 17th, Kearney wrote, “My SIX YEAR OLD brought this book home from his school library yesterday. He looked at all of the pictures before I got home. I sat down to read it to him and realized what it was. Gabe had no idea that people hate other people just because of the color of their skin because we don’t talk about that kind of stuff. He is 6! We talk about treating everyone with love and kindness. I am shocked that Sumner county would allow this book to go home with any elementary student… I was forced to try and explain why I didn’t like this book. Parents, this is the kind of stuff they’re teaching our small children in school! There is a picture of the police with clubs and people rioting?! Another picture is of a funeral with Black Lives Matter signs everywhere. How is this ok? He should be reading about zoo animals or cars and trucks, not some politically loaded, super heavy, dark book.
LET KIDS BE KIDS! Racism is something that is taught. Maybe if they would stop shoving this stuff down our kids throats the racism would stop.”
School librarian, Tracy Parker, said, “This book aspires to help children process all the feelings that we all process both joyful and disturbing – it ends with encouragement to stay positive and love those around you, as well as yourself. I found no place in this book that encourages negative feelings we sometimes find ourselves processing.” She also said that as a librarian, “It is our responsibility to have diverse books in our collections.”
Elizabeth Clark of Hendersonville acknowledged that the book referred to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement but asked the board to listen to all viewpoints and not be swayed by “a vocal and entitled minority who believe it is their right to make decisions for others based on their personal beliefs.”
Joanna Daniels of Save Our Schools, a Hendersonville resident, said there were many reasons the book did not belong in Sumner county schools. She reminded those in attendance of the immaturity of 6-year-olds. Citing the poor reading rates in Sumner county, Daniels argued that the book did not help with reading but with emotions which is the responsibility of parents to teach.
“How is it that the school has taken on this responsibility? Why is it now that we want teachers to not only teach our children but now to parent them and help them get through traumatic experiences?” Daniels asked. “A teacher is not someone who is trained for this – they’re not counselors, they’re not social workers – and this book is something that is traumatic and you know most of the people who are speaking here tonight are past the age of 6, so they can take their emotions and they can regulate them, they can rationalize, they can look at these pictures or look at this book and go, oh I understand what fear is, I know what anger is, ok, great, but at 6-years-old I thought my Strawberry Shortcakes hair would grow back so I cut it.”
Jeremy Mansfield of Goodlettsville spoke about the subliminal messages in the book. Mansfield, who called himself an “expert in branding in design” said that “the images in this story tell a completely different narrative than what the public, especially small children are led to believe by reading the text.”
Mansfield said, “Looking at the images alone, the story is about the murder of a black girl by black hooded, jack booted police that are racist, supported by an over display of BLM propaganda. There are approximately 10 [images of] BLM branding… in a 30 page picture book for 4 to 6-year-olds.”
The BLM organization, Mansfield said “has built an aggressive political movement built on racially focused ideas, ideas that advocates, such as the illustrator of A Place Inside of Me, can use to groom, program, and indoctrinate a new generation of kids to justify violent, societal actions as displayed in this picture book.”
Kearney, who initiated the challenge, which sent the book to the county’s review committee, said her primary reason for not liking the book is because “I do not want my son to treat people differently because they have a different color skin not because I’m a racist and I’m not going to spend anymore time trying to get people to believe that.”
Kearney said she has been bullied, and threatened over the book’s review but still believes its presence in Sumner County’s school is illegal and is considering legal action.
The school board voted to keep the book in Sumner County school libraries.
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org.