It’s been a tumultuous year for graduate Solona Husband of Temecula Valley High School.
And not just because it ended with virtual learning and a socially distanced graduation ceremony – the 2019-2020 academic year at TVHS was already more than interesting enough for Husband even before a deadly pandemic brought school as she knew it to an abrupt end.
It began for her like any other year, but by the time of her graduation Tuesday, May 19, Husband had become the face of a movement calling for change and inclusivity at a high school that she said has often been lacking in those departments for much of its history.
Many who have been following this story since September already know how it began: a student painted a Confederate flag on his senior parking space.
The flag, which the student’s family always maintained was a reference to the TV and movie franchise “Dukes of Hazzard,” and had “01” painted on top of it, was in place by Aug. 25. Husband complained to the school administration about the flag in early September as did at least one other student, and it was not until Sept. 12 that the flag was painted over.
After that incident, Husband, who said she was unhappy with school administrators’ response – the TVHS principal told Valley News at the time that he felt bad that “if the intent of putting the flag there was just to celebrate a movie, the family spent eight hours putting that symbol down” even as he had the painting removed – began taking to Twitter to discuss other instances of racism she said she had seen every day as a black student during her four years at Temecula’s oldest high school. In the process, she started a hashtag, #TVHSNeedsChange.
That outspokenness led to some things Husband saw as positive change, like protests and a TVHS Needs Change club that will continue to demand more cultural sensitivity from administrators and students alike now that Husband has graduated. It also led to some student pushback – Husband’s name was written in graffiti along with the N-word at least three times on campus.
Husband said it was a stressful and scary situation to find herself in, but based on her previous years at TVHS, it also was not a surprising one.
“Going into the school year as a freshman, I was really excited to start high school, and then I would notice things that teachers would say and other students would say. I’ve always heard the N-word thrown around by other people in middle school, but at Temecula Valley it felt like it was something that was so normalized and so accepted that it made me feel really uncomfortable,” Husband said. “Teachers didn’t correct students. Other students didn’t correct students.”
Even before the flag incident, Husband had already found herself very disheartened, she said.
“I think junior year was my breaking point. It was like, the racism was so bad that it turned me into a mean person,” Husband said. “And then of course senior year came around, and it got even harder.”
TVHS has historically had a high percentage of white students and a comparatively low population of black students. Even today, its student body is 48% white, 32% Hispanic and 3% black.
So while many students may have walked past the Confederate flag parking spot that sparked Husband’s entire movement without being concerned, Husband saw something very different and very upsetting.
“The Confederate flag, for one, people want to claim that it’s all about heritage,” she said. “The Confederate flag is the flag of many that killed my ancestors and many other people’s ancestors in this nation. A lot of people have died under that flag for racism and slavery. That’s why you see KKK members, they wear it on their uniforms. So if you’re flying that flag that was made to oppress and destroy my people, I’m not going to take it lightly. That flag is a symbol of hatred, white supremacy and all-around evil. If you’re all about America, why would you want to fly a flag that was against America?”
Husband said that’s why she felt she had to complain to administrators and that’s why #TVHSNeedsChange was born. And hard as the battle has been for her, Husband said she knows she made a difference.
“When we had the protest, that’s what really gave me the momentum and made me feel like I had an impact,” Husband said. “I have people speaking out more, (direct messaging) me … people have a respect for me and the Black Student Union, so people started to really realize that this is not OK. They don’t understand the history of this school; it needs to be addressed. We used to have skinheads at Temecula Valley High School.”
When the pandemic crisis hit and schools were closed in March though, it was hard for Husband to be disappointed, she said, despite the progress she felt she had made.
“I feel like I would have done much more if the school year continued,” Husband said. “It would have been nice to continue the school year strong, but I think I really needed this time to really rejuvenate and reflect. I never got a chance to focus on myself.
“I didn’t feel safe at school, and when I heard that school was gonna be canceled, I was actually relieved,” she said.
Still, Husband said she believes the work she started will continue, and she is confident that the students who have taken over the TVHS Needs Change club will take up the mantle from her.
“I have so much faith in them. I’m so proud of them, and I know that they’re going to make Temecula Valley a better place, and they’re gonna do so much,” she said. “I guess the last thing I would say to Temecula Valley High School is, always do the right thing, even if it means risking something. Always believe in yourself. Support each other. Love each other. And love will always override hate.”
She also thanked several teachers who she said were supportive of her and her movement.
“Mr. Heid, who was awesome,” she said. “Ms. Ramsay, Mr. Paino, Mr. Chavez, Ms. Tamika the (Black Student Union) student adviser, Ms. Preite, Ms. Mayar.”
She was less enthusiastic about school administrators’ responses to the Confederate flag incident and the multiple times she found out her name had been referenced in racist graffiti
“It got to the point where I was just used to it, and I hope the next person at Temecula Valley High School isn’t going to have to deal with those things. The superintendent should have done more; the principal should have done more. Everyone should have done more,” she said.
Now that her high school career is over, Husband is leaving Temecula for the Bay Area – she’s off to California State East Bay, where she will study sociology and theater.
“I really love musical theater. It’s one of my escapes. I just love being able to tell a story in front of a group of people,” Husband said, who has also performed in school plays on top of everything else she dealt with during her turbulent senior year. “And I also want to learn more about different social groups and understand them.”
Despite the challenges she has faced, she said she’s hopeful for both her own future and the future of the school she’s leaving behind.
“I guess the last thing I would say to Temecula Valley High School is, always do the right thing, even if it means risking something,” she said. “Always believe in yourself. Support each other. Love each other. And love will always override hate.”
Will Fritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.