‘I live in constant fear’: Top school superintendent opens up about George Floyd's death
He is the managing director of the tenth largest school district in the country, the leader of more than 22,000 employees and the commander of hundreds of police officers.
Donald Fennoy, the first superintendent of the Black School in Palm Beach County, Florida, is also scared.
Fear of himself, he says, and fear of his eleven-year-old son.
At the instigation of the international outcry over the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis policeman had kneed at his neck for more than eight minutes, Fennoy made an unusually personal speech last week about how he and other black men did move around the world with increased care and concern.
Donald Fennoy, superintendent of schools in Palm Beach County, Florida, listens during a corona virus meeting on March 10.
"Every morning when I get up to go outside and go, I am aware that I am wearing a hoodie because it is dark outside and I may be able to approach my neighbors who are walking and they do not recognize me and they call the police, ”he said.
"I live in constant fear of insulting other people or doing something to call the police," he said, speaking from home during a virtual school board meeting.
As a senior, professionally savvy black leader, Fennoy said he typically hides such uncertainties in his efforts to "be a catalyst for change."
But after Floyd's death, he said to the board members: "For the first time in my career, I have to be honest with my experience as a black man in America."
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44-year-old Fennoy said he had always recognized the importance of teaching his son to be polite and friendly in public - not just to ensure good manners but to reduce the risk of being a suspect neighbor the police are calling.
Fennoy took him to pick up mail in the center of their community and said he told his son to do everything possible to be kind and polite.
"You have to be respectful," he tells him. "You have to talk to people. You have to open doors. "
Floyd's death brought these efforts to a profound relief, he said, and led a conversation this week with his son about death and why he always has to be personable in their neighborhood.
"I started to explain to him why I am so hard when it comes to being respectful," he said. "Because you know something, ladies and gentlemen? Do you know what i want the most I want my child to survive the encounter. I want him to come home. "
His son's reaction to the conversation was to wonder what her family would do if Fennoy were killed.
"And what should I do with it?" Fennoy said to the board members, his voice cracked.
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Usually prudent, said Fennoy, he realized the importance of publicly declaring that despite my job, I "act as a scared person in this world."
"I just want everyone to know that there are a lot of people like me who are out of order," he said. "They're just not. And I want to give people who look like me permission to say so at least." once in her life. "
The wave of outcry over Floyd's death has made him think about how he can use his status and influence to work for deeper change. It's a question he's still grappling with, he said.
"There comes a point where you have to start doing something," he said. "So, as a superintendent, I'm obliged to do something and we'll work through it."
"I hope," he continued, "we're not taking this as another dead black man in America and going on with our lives."
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Follow Andrew Marra on Twitter: @AMarranara
This article originally appeared in the Palm Beach Post: George Floyd's Death: The Florida Headmaster says he's scared.
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