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'Personal passion for HBCUs overshadowed support for the school mission': Black teacher abruptly fired from Georgia Catholic school

Controversy has erupted online and elsewhere after a Black Catholic teacher in Georgia revealed he was fired from a Jesuit school near Atlanta in part for promoting Black culture.

Victor Hicks, who was fired last month from a Catholic school in Georgia for alleged over-promotion of Black culture.

DECATUR, Ga. — An African-American STEM teacher has been fired from a Jesuit Catholic school in Northwest Georgia after being criticized for promotion of Black culture, according to official documents making waves on social media this month.

Victor Hicks, who taught for the 2021-22 academy year at St Thomas More Catholic School, a predominantly White institution in Decatur, was informed on May 26th that his contract would not be renewed, accompanied by an evaluation document that included criticism of his emphasis on HBCUs during a Black History Month Mass.

“[The] focus on HBCU[s was] not necessary, since Black leaders and Christ were enough of a focus,” the document reads.

“[Your] personal passion for HBCUs overshadowed support for the school mission.”

The document, formulated by school principal Shaun Bland and released by Hicks last week, contains a number of other criticisms (and praise) and was delivered to Hicks on May 16th. He says it was the only negative formal feedback he received all year.

“I had a mid-year conference with the instructional coordinator and all feedback was positive,” Hicks told BCM.

Hicks, a Catholic, also says that the school’s criticism of his alleged lack of Church teachings in his lessons is false, and that he had innovated an “Invent Like Ignatius” unit as well as a “Design a St Kateri Habit” interdisciplinary unit with an art teacher.

He was also criticized in his review for not adequately including computer science in his lesson plans.

“If I actually were not including the elements mentioned, it would be an IMMEDIATE conversation,” he said.

“I submitted lesson plans weekly that were supposedly reviewed.”

St Thomas More is among the region’s newer Catholic schools, having been founded in 1950 during an era in which Georgia became notorious for its “segregation academies”—private schools created to maintain White Supremacy amidst growing legal challenges. The school was noted in a 2012 dissertation as one of several private schools on the radar of parents fleeing to the suburbs during White Flight in the mid to late 20th century.

Today, St Thomas More is roughly 18% Black, but Hicks says the school is left with only three African-American teachers following his firing.

With a background including the founding of a newsmaking Black-focused youth STEM program called “Coding with Culture”, and work as a computer science teacher in Atlanta public schools, Hicks says the controversy unfolding with St Thomas More carries racial overtones.

“The criticism of HBCUs in any context in a K-12 academic setting is an attempt to erase a very relevant and important part of American culture,” he said.

“I am hesitant to use the word racism; however, I am struggling to see any other possible reason or excuse.”

Hicks working with students.

Hicks added that he appealed the school’s decision not to renew his contract, having contacted Atlanta’s Superintendent of Catholic Schools Hal Plummer directly about two weeks ago. He has not received a response, but news of the appeal reached his former administrators at St Thomas More almost immediately, who informed Hicks that the superintendent “supported” their decision.

Plummer declined to comment when asked by BCM about Hicks’ firing, citing a policy concerning personnel decisions.

In the aftermath of his firing, Hicks says he has received support from the anti-racism committee for the archdiocese's Catholic schools, as well as from several of his former students. He says they are the ones who will suffer most from the school’s unceremonious decision.

“I am extremely sad about how this will leave my Black students, most importantly,” he said on social media.

“But also, I am tired of dealing with mess when I'm trying to educate young people.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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