School Board Finally Apologizes for Racially Profiling Black Student Over Durag

More than eight months after suggesting the student had gang affiliations, Edmonton Catholic Schools has apologized.
Una Momolu Emmell Summerville
Edmonton Catholic Schools has apologized for its treatment of Una Momolu and her son Emmell Summerville. Photo by Anya Zoledziowski

More than eight months after a Black student in Edmonton was racially profiled due to his durag, the city’s Catholic school board has finally apologized.

In September 2019, Christ the King student Emmell Summerville, 12, was instructed by his principal to remove his durag because the school believed it signified a gang affiliation.

After Summerville’s mother Una Momolu met with principal Phebe Switzer to discuss the matter, Switzer called the police and banned Momolu from school grounds. Summerville moved to a different school.

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Edmonton Catholic Schools said Momolu had “acted aggressively” during the meeting, but an audio recording of the encounter didn’t support that claim. The school board said at the time the treatment of Summerville and Momolu “had nothing to do with race.”

In the school board’s letter of apology, tweeted on Wednesday by Edmonton-based writer and activist Bashir Mohamed, who has been fighting on behalf of Momolu and her son, the board acknowledges that Summerville’s durag is a “culturally significant garment,” something it previously tried to deny.

“We recognize that it is inappropriate to associate durags with gang affiliation without there being any other indication of gang affiliation,” the letter says.

The letter also says the board is planning to train administrators on de-escalation strategies.

“We understand that Ms. Momolu was upset and distressed after police were called and the school was put on lockdown,” the letter says. “We have learned from this experience; it will continue to inform the professional development of our staff and we will strive to do better in the future.”

The school board said it is continuing to review its dress code policy and invites community members to give their input.

Momolu did not reply to a request for comment. But in a statement on Facebook, the group Justice for Emmell, of which she is a part, said that from the beginning, all it wanted was an apology for Emmell and Momolu.

“Unfortunately, the school board escalated the situation by banning (Momolu) from her own son’s school and publishing numerous lies about the initial incident and mishandled follow-up. Despite the obvious gaslighting and continued discrimination, we only asked for a removal of the ban and a review of the policy, in addition to the original request for an apology,” the statement says.

“For months, it seemed like it would be impossible to make any progress with the school board. But thanks to Una and Emmell’s determination, along with your passionate support, all three demands were met.”

The group has started a crowdfunding campaign to cover therapy sessions for Summerville.

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