FALLS CHURCH, Va. - In Northern Virginia, a Fairfax County school board member is facing some backlash from the community after warning students of racism and white supremacy at a graduation ceremony.
On June 7, Fairfax County School Board Member, Abrar Omeish, gave a commencement speech for the graduating class of Justice High School, including a little over 500 – mostly minority – students.
"Our world is overwhelmed with need. We struggle with human greed, racism, extreme versions of individualism and capitalism, white supremacy, growing wealth gaps, disease, climate crisis, extreme poverty amidst luxury and waste right next door, and the list goes on," said Omiesh.
FOX 5’s Sierra Fox spoke with parents and students who were at the commencement. Some say her message was inspiring and relatable whereas others think it was inappropriate and controversial.
Omeish’s graduation speech was about 25 minutes total. It started off with a message of overcoming obstacles – both personal and academic. She even switched between different languages including English, Arabic, and Spanish.
Omeish also told graduates their leadership will desperately be needed in the world. The part that comes after is what’s raising some eyebrows. She told students they were sitting on stolen land and the world is unfair. She said, "your truth, your courage, and your path to uplift those who are not heard will leave you on the right side of history."
FOX 5 spoke with Sue Zoldak, Founder of Do Better FCPS, which is an advocacy group that holds school officials accountable who said they have received dozens of complaints from parents and people in the community about the speech.
"She’s using her platform as a platform for protest, for political divisiveness, and it’s her right to do that on her own time, but as a representative of the school board, she is not a politician," said Zoldak. "It was very disheartening to once again see that this particular school board member has used her platform inappropriately."
While some people believe her words were out of line, others think it was the most encouraging, memorable, and motivating part of the ceremony.
FOX 5’s Sierra Fox also interviewed Omeish via Zoom for her response to those who are concerned about the statements she made.
"Really what’s important here is preparing kids for the reality of the world," said Omeish. "The reason why I said the things I said was because I actually had a conversation with the class counsel in advance. I really wanted to empower their voice and make them feel special on that day."
In an e-mail statement, Fairfax County Public Schools said:
"Individual School Board members have a First Amendment right to share their personal views at any public event at which they are invited to speak. Their personal opinions do not reflect or represent the views of the Fairfax County School Board or the school division."