PHILADELPHIA — Three students at St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls, part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office for Catholic Education, “are no longer part of the school community” after creating a clip featuring blackface and racial slurs, according to a Feb. 11 statement by school officials.
A fourth student involved in the incident is also no longer attending nearby Franklin Towne Charter High School, according to a statement by that school.
Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez of Philadelphia said in a Feb. 10 statement that he shares in the “shock and deep disappointment” of the archdiocesan Catholic high school community, following a racist social media video that came to light Feb. 7.
The archbishop’s pastoral message was issued the same day some 20 protesters – most of them Black teens, flanked by a heavy police presence — marched around the school late in the afternoon, bearing signs that read “No More Racism,” “Hate Hurts” and “Prejudice Creates Pain.”
“I literally threw up when I saw the video; that’s how sick I was. I have never been so disturbed in my life, honestly,” said Deanna Handy, a member of St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Philadelphia and a 2005 graduate of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s former Cardinal Dougherty High School, who joined the protest.
Speaking through tears, Handy told OSV News that “in this city, in this age, in 2023, we should be way far ahead. And that video just pulled us back.”
St. Hubert administrators said in their Feb. 11 statement they met with the Archbishop’s Commission on Racial Healing, created by Archbishop Pérez in January 2021 following the high-profile killings of Black people, including George Floyd, throughout the nation.
The school said it will host a “previously planned” Feb. 20 anti-bias workshop with the Anti-Defamation League for faculty, staff and administration, as part of its plans to obtain an ADL “No Place for Hate” designation for St. Hubert.
President Lizanne Pando and principal Gina MacKenzie also said in the statement that there would be “a visible and active police presence around the campus perimeter” as classes begin Feb. 13, along with a general address to students to “outline our general plan for safety and healing moving forward.”
The social media video, which appeared to be filmed outside of school hours in a private residence, showed one teen spraying another girls’ face with dark paint while yelling, “You’re a Black girl. You know your roots.”
She then screams, “It’s February!” in an apparent reference to Black History Month.
As at least one other teen looks on laughing and recording the incident on her cellphone, the girl with the spray paint says, “You’re nothing but a slave. And after this you’re doing my laundry.”
The girl in blackface then replies, “I’m Black and I’m proud!”
The original video has since been removed, but multiple screenshots and recordings have been distributed online and through local media, which blurred the faces of the teens for broadcast. OSV News viewed an unedited version of the video that was shared on Twitter by user @cocoxinaa.
In his pastoral message to the St. Hubert community – which followed statements the school issued Feb. 7 and Feb. 8 — Archbishop Pérez said that “the recent actions of a few have ripped open deep wounds” both in the school and in “our community-at-large.”
Roughly a dozen area residents had gathered to protest outside the school on the morning of Feb. 8. Later that day, the school in conjunction with the archdiocese issued an updated statement, noting that extracurricular activities would be suspended and instruction shifted to an online format due to “reactionary general threats” made against the St. Hubert community.
“As I’ve said before many times, racism is a mortal sin and an attack on the integrity of God’s most precious gift, that of human life,” said Archbishop Pérez in his statement. “Racism is a vile evil. It has no place in our hearts, our lives, our church or our schools. Those responsible will face severe disciplinary consequences.”
School officials noted in their Feb. 8 statement the behavior in the video violated both the school’s code of conduct and its “Responsible Use of Technology policy that applies to students both inside and outside of school.”
Archbishop Pérez asked both the St. Hubert community and the wider community to “work toward healing,” looking to God for “courage and strength.”
Father Stephen Thorne, chair of the archbishop’s commission — who also serves as a consultant and special projects director for the National Black Catholic Congress — told OSV News that “encounter, formation and action” are needed to dismantle racism.
“No one is born a racist,” said Father Thorne, a longtime educator and urban education specialist. “These are learned behaviors, and that’s where the formation part comes in.”
Father Thorne told OSV News he has convened emergency meetings of the racial healing commission, whose work is “not simply a response to one event, but baked into our DNA as people of faith.”
“I know in my heart that what recently took place does not represent who you are or what you stand for,” said Archbishop Pérez in his message. “As we move forward, I urge all of you to embrace … individual and collective responsibility to stamp out racism in a manner that promotes peace, justice and the call of Christ to live in the spirit of charity.”
“We are working diligently, with faith and integrity, to begin the process of healing,” said Pando and MacKenzie in their Feb. 11 statement. “We welcome all members of our school to heal with us, under the mantle of St. Hubert and in the loving hands of God.”
Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter @GinaJesseReina.