Politics

‘If I gave a child one of these books I’d go to jail’: Georgia mom speaks out about school libraries


A Georgia mother who was stopped from reading an excerpt from a book at a school board meeting because it was ‘inappropriate’ has expressed her frustration at the ‘irony’ of the book being available in libraries.   

Michelle Brown attended a Cherokee County School Board meeting on March 17, demanding answers about the inclusion of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi in the schools’ libraries.

‘These administrators need to be making sure that they are creating a safe environment for all children,’ she told Fox News on Friday, noting that children are subjected to ‘a silent trauma’ after reading the material. 

Brown said ‘the school board is deemed a machine’ that has ‘power over administrators, teachers and parents in the community.’

She claimed the board intimidates parents into silence. 

Brown – who is not the parent of a high school student in the district – said other parents were ‘afraid’ to speak up, and said she found her silencing ‘ironic.’

‘If I gave a child one of these books, I’d go to jail,’ she told Laura Ingraham. ‘But they can get it in our school libraries. And it’s not OK.’

On March 17, after explaining the complicated bureaucratic process for having a book removed from shelves, Brown began reading from the award-winning novel in a bid to illustrate why it should be banned from the 42,000-student district.

‘Excited now, he pushed into her as she squeezed her eyes as tightly as she could,’ she read. 

‘Her tongue circled her lips. He pushed harder, his breath heavy and labored. She scratched his back and he cried out. She bit his ear and pulled his hair.’

She added: ‘There’s lot more to it. It’s Fifty Shades of Grey in CCSD [Cherokee County School District].’ 

Michelle Brown, a mother from Georgia, on Friday night told why she read a segment of a library book to a school board meeting on March 17

Michelle Brown, a mother from Georgia, on Friday night told why she read a segment of a library book to a school board meeting on March 17

Ingraham said that Brown had been 'cancelled' for reading the explicit scene in the book at the school board meeting

Ingraham said that Brown had been ‘cancelled’ for reading the explicit scene in the book at the school board meeting

Brown told Ingraham that she was being labelled a ‘book banner.’

She said she was simply calling for a book list, with ‘books that are deemed appropriate to be in schools in the first place.’

She told Ingraham she was surprised that the debate about appropriate books was being had in her deeply red constituency. 

Brown read an excerpt of Homegoing, an award-winning novel by 33-year-old author Yaa Gyasi that describes how the lives of two sisters dovetailed during the transatlantic slave trade

Brown read an excerpt of Homegoing, an award-winning novel by 33-year-old author Yaa Gyasi that describes how the lives of two sisters dovetailed during the transatlantic slave trade

‘I’m in Cherokee County, Georgia. We are one of the top Republican counties in the state,’ she said.

‘Slowly but surely, I began seeing some of the things that were in the curriculum.’

She said it was ‘becoming alarming.’ 

Brown told Fox other parents did not want to speak up, saying: ‘All of them were kind of afraid. 

‘They didn’t want to go up against [the school board]. 

‘So I thought, ‘Well, I’ll do it, I’ve done it before.’ 

‘So that’s when I started emailing them and then got up to speak. I had no idea that they were going to react that way.’ 

Brown added that ‘this is not about book-banning.’

She said that instead it was a question of ensuring ‘obscene’ material does not end up in the hands of children. 

Published in 2016, Homegoing tells the tale of two African half-sisters born in the mid-18th century who grow up to have vastly different lives as a consequence of the slave trade.

As Brown read the segment of the book – which is not being used in classroom instruction – board member Patsy Jordan cut her off.

‘Excuse me, excuse me, we have children at home. It’s live streaming, and it’s really not appropriate for you to read that,’ Jordan said. 

‘Don’t you find the irony in that?’ Brown shouted, at one point smacking the lectern. 

‘You’re exactly saying exactly what I’m telling you! You’re giving it to our children! 

‘I would never give this to my children!’ 

Michelle Brown was stopped from reading an excerpt of a book at a school board meeting in Cherokee County, Georgia last week because it's 'inappropriate'

Michelle Brown was stopped from reading an excerpt of a book at a school board meeting in Cherokee County, Georgia last week because it’s ‘inappropriate’

'Excuse me, excuse me, we have children's at home. It's live streaming, and it's really not appropriate for you to read that,' said board member Patsy Jordan, bottom right

‘Excuse me, excuse me, we have children’s at home. It’s live streaming, and it’s really not appropriate for you to read that,’ said board member Patsy Jordan, bottom right

CSSD told DailyMail.com that Brown only has elementary school-aged children in the district, which is located about an hour north of Atlanta.

Another board member chimes in: ‘I think we have gotten the gist of your information that you wanted to share with us this evening.’

‘So you’re cutting me off?’ Brown asks at the March 17 meeting.

‘So you have the last 30 seconds – our attorney has said ‘Out of order,” the board member replies.

‘I suggest that nobody submits any more books,’ Brown adds. ‘It’s not our job, it’s your job to be getting these books. All this happened under your watch.

‘Maybe if you spent more time reading these books instead of calculating the statistical demographics of those submitting the books, you wouldn’t be grooming our children. 

Homegoing was written by Ghanaian-American novelist Yaa Gyasi, 33. Above, Gyasi receives the PEN/Hemingway Award for Homegoing at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston on April 2, 2017

Homegoing was written by Ghanaian-American novelist Yaa Gyasi, 33. Above, Gyasi receives the PEN/Hemingway Award for Homegoing at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston on April 2, 2017

CCSD says Brown, who stormed off to applause, does not have any high school-aged children in the district

CCSD says Brown, who stormed off to applause, does not have any high school-aged children in the district

‘You’re saying that we’re embarrassing you? Well, you’re embarrassing us and our kids.

‘It’s not OK! You are supposed to be giving them a safe space in school. These books? If I can’t email them to you, if I can’t say them, they shouldn’t be in the school!’

What is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi about?

Homegoing was published in 2016 by Penguin Random House.

The 320-page novel was written by Ghanaian-American novelist Yaa Gyasi, 33.

It tells the tale of two half-sisters born in mid-18th century Ghana who grow up to have incredibly different lives.

Effia marries a British governor of Cape Coast Castle and lives in luxury, while her sister Esi is captured during a raid on her village and held in a dungeon under Effia before she is put on a slave ship. The book follows the lives of the sisters’ descendants as it charts how the legacy of slavery affects them in the present.

The novel won the John Leonard Award by the National Book Critics Circle in 2016. Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates selected it for the National Book Foundation’s ‘5 under 25’ award that same year. It was also chosen as one of Oprah Winfrey’s ‘Best Books of the Year. 

Writing for the New York Times, Isabel Wilkerson described the book as ‘hypnotic’ and called Gyasi a ‘stirringly gifted young writer.’ 

Vulture said: ‘Rich. . . . Fascinating. . . . Each chapter is tightly plotted, and there are suspenseful, even spectacular climaxes.’

Sources: Penguin Random House, Amazon, Goodreads 

Brown walked away to applause from the audience.

Homegoing was written by Ghanaian-American novelist Yaa Gyasi, 33, and published in 2016.

It tells the tale of two half-sisters born in Ghana in the mid-18th century who grow up to have incredibly different lives. 

Effia marries a British governor of Cape Coast Castle and lives in luxury, while her sister Esi is captured during a raid on her village and held in a dungeon under Effia before she is put on a slave ship.

The book then follows the lives of the two sisters’ descendants as it charts how the legacy of slavery affects them in the present.

A description on Goodreads, where the book has 4.47 stars, states: ‘Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.’

The novel won the John Leonard Award by the National Book Critics Circle in 2016. The prize is given to the best debut book in any genre. 

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates selected it for the National Book Foundation’s ‘5 under 25’ award that same year.

Writing for the New York Times, Isabel Wilkerson described the book as ‘hypnotic’ and called Gyasi a ‘stirringly gifted young writer.’

During the meeting, Brown said the wait time for the district to review a book stretches out until November.

She also added that, as part of the removal process, anyone in the district’s review committee can object to the book’s removal, meaning that it stays on the shelves.

She claimed the instructions told parents to ‘get over the shock’ of students reading profanity, including the word ‘see you next Tuesday.’ 

Brown said that an appeals committee for book removals includes a student who said Homegoing must stay in the libraries because it’s in her AP class’s reading list.

But CCSD says the removal process does not include a student. The College Board does, however, suggest that students read Homegoing in order to pass its AP English exams.

Brown spoke after a woman who identified herself as the parent of two children at CCSD. The woman spoke about her concerns about a ‘recent increase in challenged books’ in the district. 

Brown said: ‘If anyone in this room gave one of these books that she’s talking about to a child, you would go to prison, why are you then putting them in our libraries?’

Homegoing is not being used for classroom instruction and is currently available in the media centers of four high schools, a Cherokee County School District spokeswoman told DailyMail.com.

The spokeswoman said that parents can restrict their children from checking out books.

‘Additionally, the speaker – who is not a parent of CCSD high school students, previously had been repeatedly advised that she could file a challenge to potentially remove the book from CCSD high school media centers, but she has not filed such a challenge,’ the spokeswoman said.

Homegoing is the latest book to have come under fire from conservative parents and school officials who are increasingly concerned about what their children are allowed to read in schools. 

Earlier this year, a Tennessee school board voted unanimously to remove a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about Holocaust survivors from its eighth-grade curriculum, citing a drawing of a nude woman, eight swear words and its ‘not wise or healthy’ content.

The McMinn County school board in Tennessee voted 10-0 to remove 'Maus' by Art Spiegelman from the eighth grade curriculum over eight swear words and nudity

The McMinn County school board in Tennessee voted 10-0 to remove ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman from the eighth grade curriculum over eight swear words and nudity

The graphic novel by Art Spiegelman (above) is inspired by the story of Art's parents

The graphic novel by Art Spiegelman (above) is inspired by the story of Art’s parents

Board member Tony Allman (left) suggested the book should at least be censored. 'Why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff, it is not wise or healthy,' he said

Board member Tony Allman (left) suggested the book should at least be censored. ‘Why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff, it is not wise or healthy,’ he said

The McMinn County Board of Education voted 10-0 to remove ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman from the curriculum on January 10, despite educators arguing that the graphic novel is an ‘anchor text’ in eighth-grade English language arts instruction and the centerpiece of a months-long study of the Holocaust. 

Published in 1991, Maus is inspired by the story of Spiegelman’s parents, Vladek and Anja, who survived the Holocaust after being shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. The graphic novel depicts Nazis as cats and Jewish people as mice.

The board heard from instructional supervisors and other school officials who defended the use of the book in class but were unanimously overruled.

‘I went to school here 13 years. I learned math, English, reading and history. I never had a book with a naked picture in it, never had one with foul language. … So, this idea that we have to have this kind of material in the class in order to teach history, I don’t buy it,’ said board member Mike Cochran. 

Spiegelman, 73, called the ban ‘Orwellian’ in an interview with CNBC, saying that he learned about it a day before Holocaust Remembrance Day.   



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