LA CROSSE. Wis, (WXOW) - Recent civil unrest and protests have increased the public dialogue and debate about race relations in La Crosse.
Many families of color said their children do not feel like they belong let alone feel safe in the La Crosse community, especially within the walls of their schools.
Brianna Washington is among those kids of color. She said she was called hurtful and disgusting racial slurs on school grounds and was even followed home from school from bullies. Washington said when she told school officials, she felt they did little to nothing about it.
"When I told my school I was being bullied along with being called racial slurs, they did not do much. I did not want to give out the names of these bullies, because I knew the kids were going to harass me if they found out it was me," Washington said. "The only punishment my school did to my bullies was for them to get benched for one game."
Brianna's father, Demarius Washington, said he was not aware his daughter was being bullied at school because of her skin-color.
"She told me that a kid called her a racial slur, the school didn't do much to the kid for the incident, that was troubling to me," Demarius said. "For these youth of color in La Crosse to do a protest to get their voices heard, is ridiculous."
Diariana Herron, another youth of color, said that she became friends with white kids out of fear of getting picked on in school.
In one instance, Herron said she was mocked in class when a Martin Luther King Junior film was aired in class. Herron said one of the kids in class randomly asked her, 'If she knew MLK'… Herron said she did not respond but thought to herself that clearly, she does not. She said the teacher didn't address the kid who made that remark.
"I've had people be my friends so that I could have a better image. When I realized that it just broke me," Herron said, "I should not have to friends with someone who is white just to have a better social image."
Among the students of color working on getting their voices heard are sisters Mia and Chaya Davis. The girls started a group at their school called Black Student Leaders. This group aims to educate faculty and peers about racism and lift kids of color.
"We just want kids to feel comfortable in their school," said Chaya.
Chaya and Mia said they do not think their teachers recognize this group's importance and potential.
"We have a big problem with racism at our school. The other problem is that our teachers will talk down on our group", Mia said. "The other group members and I recognize that if our superiors talk down on our group, this gives students the leeway to talk down on our group."
On Tuesday, we'll post part two of this story online and on-air. It includes responses from school officials and what they see as solutions to solving racism in the district.