SIGN ATTACKS SPUR A ‘TEACHING MOMENT’
Grace Scott, left and Cionna Rosenthal of the Rumson Country Day School help homeowner Yvonne Grayson repaint her repeatedly vandalized Obama sign Sunday morning.
Late last month, redbankgreen reported on a rash of Obama campaign signs being stolen and vandalized in Fair Haven, including one with heavy wooden posts that had been yanked out of the ground.
Homeowners Yvonne and Mark Grayson recovered their homemade sign and put it back in a prominent place in front of the Ridge Road house they’ve occupied for 15 years this time anchoring the posts in concrete.
But the vandalism continued: the sign was pelted with eggs, and somebody left a big bootprint in the center of it. Then, last Monday, six days after the election, Yvonne Grayson awoke to see that someone had poured dark brown paint over the sign.
An act of racial intimidation? The Graysons are African-American, and Yvonne Grayson says she’s angry that her property was vandalized. But she refuses to frame her response in terms of race.
“I’m not going there,” she says. “These are just some folks who aren’t happy their will didn’t win out. That’s the way it works, and they don’t like it.”
But the attack upset students and faculty at the Rumson Country Day School less than a mile east of the Grayson house. Unaware of who lived in the house, they saw it as an assault on free speech.
An unidentified motorist stops her car Sunday morning to tell Yvonne Grayson that the vandalism of the sign was a “despicable” act.
Jane Denny, a history and language teacher at the school who is also the education director at the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Center at Brookdale Community College, says there was a widespread sense of outrage among teachers and students.
“Many of us were shocked,” she says.
Denny, who teaches a class at the Holocaust center to juveniles who have been convicted of bias crimes involving vandalism or harassment, set aside her eighth-grade Spanish lesson that day to engage her RCDS students in a non-partisan discussion of the vandalism and what it implied.
“This is a teaching moment,” she says. “I wanted the kids to understand that this is [an affront to] freedom of speech and absolutely unacceptable.”
She then obtained permission from the administration to help student body president Grace Scott, 13, write a note of empathy to the homeowners “on behalf of the entire faculty and student body,” which Denny delivered to the house.
“I felt I didn’t want there to be bystanders,” Denny says. “This house is on a street where there are three schools. To say nothing is equally offensive.”
The note read:
My name is Grace Scott. I am the Student Council President of The Rumson County Day School. I write this letter on behalf of the entire RCDS faculty and student body. This morning, we discovered your beautiful Obama sign destroyed by brown paint. This act is a true disgrace to our country and community, especially on Veterans Day. Americans just like us have worked hard, even died trying to make this world a better place. We are outraged by this vandalism. We are very willing to help you in any way to restore your sign. We are here to help.
Grayson says she and her husband were touched by the note.
Yesterday morning, Grace, of Rumson and Cionna Rosenthal, 14, of Little Silver showed up at the Grayson’s house to help Yvonne Grayson repaint the sign “to show that we’re a community and we’re not going to just pretend this didn’t happen,” says Grace.
A crosspiece on the sign that had touted the Obama-Biden campaign was to be changed to read, simply, “USA” to signify, says Grayson, that the election is over and “we’re coming together.”
While the repainting was underway, passing motorists honked and gave thumbs-up signs; one driver pulled over to tell Grayson she thought the vandalism was “despicable.”
The attacks were “very ugly,” says Grayson. “But the only reason we’re doing this is to show that there’s more good in our community than the likes of which created this mess. Far more.”