Who is Ruby Ray? Teen to sue NY school district for not publishing George Floyd sonnet
Sixteen-year-old Ruby Ray's poem ‘Derek Chauvin’s Ode to George Floyd: A Dark Sonnet’ was rejected in order to protect, and promote 'White racism', her family said
LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK: The family of a white teenager says they're suing her school for $2 million after administrators refused to publish her poem about George Floyd's death in the school magazine. Reportedly, the reasons given for not publishing the poem were that it was “not appropriate” and “dangerous.”
On Tuesday, May 25, the family of 16-year-old Ruby Ray, a tenth grader at Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson, filed a notice of claim in Suffolk County Supreme Court. Earlier, the magazine’s faculty adviser, school English teacher Matthew Sefick, said that “I’m less inclined to include [the Floyd sonnet] because of the political aspect. There are certain topics that might be difficult to address in an open forum like The Mast.”
Who is Ruby Ray?
The poem Ruby wrote is titled ‘Derek Chauvin’s Ode to George Floyd: A Dark Sonnet’. She had reportedly written and submitted it to her school’s literary magazine for publication in late April. She was informed of her rejection on Monday, May 24. Principal Eric Haruthunian wrote to her in an email: “At this time, I will not approve the sonnet for publishing in The Mast.”
“I hope you understand how touchy of a subject this can be,” Sefick told reporters. “This is an emotionally charged piece no matter how you look at it, and emotions run deep in an audience. … There is no back and forth discussion the way that we are having, and that can be dangerous. I need to think about how certain content will be received by all audiences involved.”
The family’s notice of claim accused school officials of blocking the poem “in order to please, protect, promote, placate and defend White racism in Respondents’ school and community, and White racism in general.”
Per the notice, the defendants (the district, Haruthunian, and Sefick) reportedly believe the “White community would be offended and would act oppositionally to the sonnet which portrayed Derek Chauvin as a White racist.” The notice added that the racial makeup of the district and community is 79 percent White and one percent or less black.
The family has argued that Ray’s First Amendment right to free speech was being violated, and she was being discriminated against “on the basis of race and color because Respondents regarded the Claimant as a writer and student who identified with and promoted the cause of African-Americans.”
Ray, speaking to the press, said, “I thought this was a free country and you have the right to express yourself in any way you choose. That’s not the case in the Port Jefferson School District. I felt it wasn’t America anymore.”
What was the poem?
As per the New York Post, her sonnet reads: “From Momma’s hands, you had not any chance/The street, the ‘hood made you so young ashamed/To stand tall, to control your circumstance/‘Black man, it’s you we’ll crack,’ white men proclaimed/‘Stay down,’ they say, your fate is in our hands/Obey, ok, obey me, I’m the cop/Who kneels upon your naked soul, who stands/On top your darkened head until you stop/Your sorry cry for mamma; take no breath/I bring justice here, pressed upon your neck/If I decide, you now face certain death/A fate deserved, ‘cuz you passed a bad check/You can’t breath? Then cease your black man drama/I will make you weep for ‘Mamma! Mamma!’”
“I thought they would be amazed how it really captured the hatred that the police had toward George Floyd,’’ the teen said. “They accepted other work that I submitted … One was a horror story called ‘Michaelangelo’ about a serial killer and a pervert… My freedom to express and establish my own opinions -- I thought that was my right. I thought I had all those things as a natural-born American citizen. And now I find out I don’t.”
The teen’s father John Ray, a lawyer, filed the court papers. He argued the school’s refusal to publish his daughter’s poem “is just racist -- that’s the only thing driving it. It’s a powerful poem. It says what has to be said.”