The junior class leaders at Haddonfield Memorial High set a modest goal to raise $10,000 when they selected Black Lives Matter as the charity for their spirit week fund-raiser, a move that sparked a furor in their South Jersey community.
They were surprised Tuesday when the final figures were tallied: $18,101.58. They said it was a fitting end to a tumultuous campaign that was nearly scrapped last month after some parents expressed concern about their charity choice.
“It proves that we made a big statement,” said Jane Kinney, 16. “Obviously, we care about social justice.”
Their choice created a backlash in the predominantly white Camden County community after some parents and students complained. A second charity was suggested as a compromise but was rescinded a few days later after students pushed back. The district apologized and backed the students’ decision to only raise funds for Black Lives Matter.
“It was the right thing to do,” said class adviser Rachel Gould, a health and physical education teacher. “I 100% stand by it.”
Devren Washington, an organizer for the Philadelphia chapter of Black Lives Matter, said the group is grateful for the support. He said he hopes other students will embrace the movement, which has protested violence against Black people.
“I really think it’s incredible,” Washington said. “It just shows the values of the younger generation and how they’re very cued into social issues.”
Student Council Vice President Jada Eible Hargro, who is biracial, said the students want to change perceptions about Haddonfield, a community of 11,000 with a population that is more than 90% white, 3.9% Latino, 2.4% Asian, and 0.6% Black. She helped organize a BLM protest in Haddonfield after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
“We’re trying to create change that people wouldn’t expect in Haddonfield,” said Hargro, 16. “There’s still a ways to go.”
During spirit week, typically held in November, each class sells school gear and collects donations from their peers and the community for its designated charity. The campaign was extended until last week for donations.
The junior class chose racial equity as its theme. The class also considered the NAACP, the National Urban League, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, according to Gould. Class president Lily Cheatham said she believes the controversy boosted donations, which poured in from around the country.
The Haddonfield Antiracist Coalition began a social media campaign to support the fund-raiser, while some opponents sent several messages to the school board and sent letters to a community newspaper.
In an email to The Inquirer, parent Tina DeVita said she recommended Big Brothers Big Sisters of America as the class’ charity, or that the students make a donation to the United Negro College Fund. She did not respond to a message Tuesday seeking comment.
“Politics do not belong in school and BLM Philly is a political organization,” DeVita wrote.
Camden County East NAACP president Lloyd D. Henderson noted that Haddonfield has had racial problems in the past and called the fund-raiser a big step.
“There’s hope yet,” Henderson said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of messages sent to the school board opposing the fund-raiser. Six families expressed concern.