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LETTER: RHS ’19 Grad & Activist Says Don’t Vote for These BOD Candidates

In a letter to MyRye.com, Zachary Moulaye Gaouad (RHS ’19) urges Rye citizens to not vote for two of the candidates running for the Board of Education this Tuesday. He says they are antithetical towards progress on race and equality in our schools and community. Gaouad is a current sophomore at McGill University, studying English literature and political science.

Gaouad circulated a petition last year urging racial awareness at Rye High School that garnered over 10,000 signatures, spoke at the Black Lives Matter march in Rye and helped found the Rye Coalition for Change.

Here is his letter:

BLM Speech Rye High Alum Zachary Gaouad (RHS ’19)
Rye High Alum Zachary Gaouad (RHS ’19) delivered a speech at the Black Lives Matter march in Rye in 2020.

Please Do Not Vote for Bozidar Jovanovic, Do Not Vote for John Leonard if You Want to See Racism Continue to be Pervasive Within Our Community and Rye City School District. Get out and Vote!
On the night of May 12th, despicable, hateful language was found on a bathroom promotional poster at Rye High School for a Chipotle burrito fundraiser. The words written on the poster were “No Niggers Allowed.” This occurrence shook me to my deepest core because it proves that as a school district, Rye is so far from achieving the excellence and equality it strives to promote among its students.
Such a hate crime undertaken by our very own Rye students adds fuel to a burning fire of educational negligence on the part of the entire Rye City School District’s administration. A burning fire which is most emotionally burdensome on Rye’s current nonwhite students.
As exemplified in my petition started in June of 2020 to promote Racial Equality and Awareness, and in the BIPOC Instagram account, implicit instances of racist microaggressions eventually turn into explicit instances of racist aggressions.
Although our educational failures as a school district are reflected by this recent hate crime, overall our Board of Education has at least undertaken a minimum of measures to mitigate (clearly not yet eliminate) the subsistence of racism within our community. Because it has been so hard to raise awareness and support for our struggles as marginalized people in a predominantly white community, I am compelled to bite the bullet and say that at the very least, our Board of Education has followed through on some of its crucial promises to address our concerns and acknowledge our unquestionable experiences with racism. Most importantly, the Board has overseen the employment of the Steinhardt Center from NYU and the creation of a task force to address the issues raised in my petition.
The Board now has demonstrated considerable, actionable steps to provide all students with the educational experience they are owed. This coming Tuesday May 18th, there will be an election to elect members to the Rye City School District Board of Education.
Two members seeking election to the Board of Education, Bozidar Jovanovic and John Leonard have a clear agenda, one which is to reverse the creation of the task force and its efforts to confront racism in Rye. To provide some context, in the debate held this past week, Bozidar Jovanovic said “I strongly object to the presence of the Steinhardt Center because they present in every word [that] they have a very radical ideology that denies the existence of [the] United States”. In an article for the Rye Record, when speaking of the concept of equity and its association with critical race theory Jovanovic said, “if these ideas don’t horrify you, I will remind you that when theories like this are put in practice – as they were in multiple regions around the world in the 20th century – they result in widespread misery and violence and millions of senseless deaths…I am horrified that Marxist manipulators get to dictate the school policy and brainwash entire generations of young people.”
Mr. Jovanovic, If you are going to criticize the task force, then provide us with an actionable plan to address the racism so many of us were confronted with. Don’t just say something like ‘well, critical race theory is bad because it is Marxism’. Such a questionable statement is your only agenda, your only platform. Not to mention your political fear mongering tactics, likening critical race theory to ‘millions of senseless deaths’. Likening us who advocate for curricular and policy changes to ‘Marxist manipulators’. We are not Marxists, nor are we manipulators; we are just Rye alumni who continue to be deeply affected and wounded by the racism we were confronted with in Rye and decided to do something about it. Our ideas have nothing to do with Marxism nor politics, but with basic human decency as it pertains to confronting the violation of basic human rights. When we started our petition, we provided the board with an eight step plan to address long needed changes to curriculum and policy. To Bozidar Jovanovic, you have provided the Rye community with no such substance to substantially address nor prove your tentative claims.
This is why we have a problem with supporting you and John Leonard alike in this election. We want to see change, not the preservation of the status-quo.
In an open letter to MyRye, Mr. Jovanovic stated “in school, in particular in English classes, children are supposed to read texts that transcend the times and speak about the human condition – what we normally refer to as classics. As it stands right now, that is marginalized in order to push writings with a particular message that maybe the political falvor du jour. Is anyone going to tell me that “social justice” pieces are the same as Shakespeare, Milton, Shaw, Moliere, Balzac, Goete , Tolstoy?… Education, not indoctrination”
Ever heard of James Baldwin? Langston Hughes? Maya Angelou? Frederick Douglass? Mr Jovanovic talks endlessly about indoctrination, yet only mentions dead, white male authors. Wake up, Mr. Jovanovic! Society as we know it today is much more complex than that. According to Oxford, indoctrination is to “teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.” Therefore, so as to not ‘indoctrinate’ our children, we should show them as many texts from as diverse a population (including those classics you mention) and as ideological a body as possible so our children can be critical. That way our children can compose successful arguments and rebuttals, while having the ideological substance to come to their own informed conclusions.
On a final note, I want to add that I personally do support Chris Repetto and Callie Erickson, as well as Kelsey Johnson for election to the Rye City School District Board of Education, because I know that at least, they will continue to act upon the actionable change spearheaded through the task force. And, most importantly they will listen to our marginalized voices.
I graduated in 2019, only two years ago, and I know all too well the grueling work that remains to address diversity, racial awareness and inclusion within our school district. We cannot stand idly by as the status-quo preserves itself.
Let’s continue to move forward, not backward. If you are a registered voter in Rye this Tuesday May 18th, please get out and vote for Chris Repetto, Callie Erickson and Kelsey Johnson. From my deepest depths, I beg Rye: do not vote for Bozidar Jovanovic nor John Leonard. To Bozidar Jovanovic and John Leonard: from all of us who wrote the petition last June, we do not support you.
Respectfully and most sincerely,
Zachary Moulaye Gaouad

15 COMMENTS

  1. Oh my… I feel nothing but profound sadness from seeing adults in our community use a kid as a pawn (yet again) to spread lies about John Leonard and Bozidar Jonanovic. I’m sure this kid has good intentions, but he hasn’t been here in two years, has never bothered to have a discussion with the candidates and I suppose the adults who reached out to him to ask for his support haven’t bothered either. This is the most profoundly sad thing I have witnessed in Rye to date. Stop using kids as pawns. Bozidar and John are superb candidates who are being victims of slander and defamation from people who are afraid of the things they question.

  2. I have been on the task force since the beginning. Mr. Jovanovic in completely right this is indoctrination. There is no exchange of ideas, the definition of words like racism and equity are redefine to suit a particular ideological view. Phrases are used with vague and shifting meaning phrases like “equity in opportunity”. The one 16 year old student who spoke out against the indoctrination was immediately removed from the Task force on the baseless allegation of “interfering with the business of the task force”. Its been non stop indoctrination ever since. That’s why the TF is incompetent and has done very little actual work. Rye in the kind of community that can solve our problems without introducing an outside politically motivated group. A group with the stated goal to dismantle and disrupt the school system. I think Mr. Gaouad means well but he hasn’t been in the meetings and seems to have an agenda of his own. I encourage everyone to visit BOZ4BOE and see what Mr Jovanovic is all about. He has my vote.

  3. I find this article very disturbing because it couldn’t be any further from the truth. Mr. John Leonard and Dr. Bozidar Jovanovic are the least racist people I know. There was no objection to having a task force only the manner in which it was done. I have a daughter with special needs and these two candidates took the time to sit down with parents who have kids in special education and asked what our issues were and what they could they make a difference. I found them to be two of the most inclusive candidates I interviewed.

  4. Not true, I have been in some of the task force meetings. My only agenda is to make sure our children do not go through the emotional and self-esteem scarring that results from the implicit and explicit racism so many of us have been through in Rye. The task force is the best way to address our concerns. Again, nothing to do with politics. Nobody is getting indoctrinated. I am sick of the shortcuts taken by Jovanovic and his proponents— everything is just boiled down to “indoctrination” and “Marxism”. I am only here to speak my truth and to promote tangible change. Jovanovic’s only agenda is to promote fear and to be conservative of the current educational landscape in a way that does not reflect diverse and ideologically distinct society. If we do nothing, we will hurt the emotional health of those children who continue to be marginalized, ignored, and silenced.

    • I applaud your efforts to be involved in politics and for caring for marginalized students. That said, you still need to be held to a standard of truth and not “your truth.” In no way, did either Mr. Jovanovic or Mr. Leonard state that they wanted the Task Force to be eliminated. Nor do they want racism to be pervasive in our community. Those are outright lies. These two men are members of our Rye Community, fathers, husbands, tax payers. They, as well as the other candidates for BOE, have put themselves out there in an effort to serve our community for no payment. These two men, in particular, have met with parents of Special Education students to listen to their concerns about the exclusion and bullying that their children have experienced as well. That is more than the BOE or the other candidates have offered to do. They do not deserve to have lies perpetrated against them. These men deserve a retraction immediately. Citizens should vote for whomever they want to and we may disagree, but please don’t disseminate lies.

    • “The task force is the best way to address our concerns.” Yes, Dr. Jovanovic agrees with this. If you read the language of the very first petition he put out there, it states a) his support for the taskforce, and b) specifically questions/requests changes to two controversial aspects of how it’s been run: its secrecy and the hiring of Steinhardt. Again, one may agree with his requests or not, but they are legitimate points for discussion and attention. As to Steinhardt–in the words of a Scarsdale board member–“You guys hired Steinhardt? We did not even look into them because they are too radical”. Since Dr. Jovanovic came out with these two legitimate questions, he’s been the target of lies and defamation in a way that makes me embarrassed for our community. The active effort by many people to label him a racist is a good indication of what is wrong, and should only encourage level-headed people to support him and John Leonard.

  5. Mr. Jovanovic represents many, many, many of us in Rye who reject the radicalism of Steinhard and Critical Race Theory. He is a thoughtful and good man who has seen first hand what the Orwellian world of CRT looks like in his own growing up under Communism. Do the research, CRT is directly descended from Critical Theory, a marxist manifesto developed in Germany in the 1930’s. It has its own language of “equity” and “intersectionality” and its intent is 100% equality of outcome at any expense, including reducing standards, eliminating merit and initiative and ultimately just employing quotas to attain its objectives. When the School Board takes the affirmative step of letting this poison into our school it is perfectly natural for people to push back at the ballot box. I strongly urge people to vote for Mr. Jovanovic and Mr. Leonard and reject the radicalism that as been let into our schools.

  6. Zachary, thank you so much for continuing to speak truth to power. For standing up for what is right, and pointing out so eloquently the ridiculous straw man arguments used as a fig leaf by these candidates to cover their true intentions. I am in awe of you and the other recent grads and student leaders who have held the adults’ feet to the fire over these last months. I am impressed by the adult mentors who have taught you to express your arguments so precisely and with appropriate citations. I am so thankful that you are our future. I join you in calling for everyone to vote tomorrow. I will be voting for Callie Erickson, Chris Repetto and Kelsey Johnson for an inclusive Rye. I hope you all will join me.

    • Perhaps you would care to explain to all then what are my true intentions? Since apparently the lengthy writings in local press and on my website (www.boz4boe.com) are not explanatory, maybe you can explain to everyone what exactly am I standing for?

      Talk about straw man argument and deflection.

      My motive is to make the schools better for all and to not let them go down the path of self destruction as several have already tried around the country to the detriment of ALL students.

  7. This piece seems misinformed. The key objection is using Steinhardt and Panorama, not the Task Force or its mission.

    Unfortunately the consultants that have been hired appear to be policy-based evidence makers rather than evidence-based policy makers with a clear agenda to promote CRT which is a controversial and divisive ideology.

    It seems to me that this is a good opportunity for change and improved oversight. The recent change in the HS Principal also leaves many questions unanswered.

    For those reasons I support Bozidar for a role on the BOE.

  8. Would have been nice if Mr. Gaouad bothered to actually look at what I support. The issue is not whether or not we need the task force, but how it is done. So far it was done in secrecy, with a strict code of silence imposed on the members, and under the watchful eye of the Steinhardt center, whose ideology is repugnant in the same way as the ideology of White Supremacists and KKK. That’s not how government business is done in a Constitutional Republic. Inflicting emotional damage to a group of kids, “sitting in discomfort”, as is prescribed by Steinhardt and similar outfits is not going to do anything to bridge the racial divide or heal the wounds. If anything it will make it wider. I surely won’t sit idly and allow this to be done to my children, in my school, with my money and against my explicit wishes.

    The only way forward is to espouse our common humanity. To treat each other according to the content of our character and not according to those other characteristics that we have no control over. I have mentored over 20 students in their Masters Theses at Manhatanville College. I never cared what color of their skin was or their ethnicity, but I asked for hard work and devotion to study. Now that I think about it, majority of the students were racial / ethnic minorities. So many have gone to improve their life and advance their careers thanks to my teaching. All have said they never worked as hard and all have thanked me for it. That is the content of my character, and not “my truth” but The truth. I live what I speak of, can you say the same?

  9. Mr Gaouad appears to have strong opinions about Rye and about how racist we are here in Rye; unfortunately groups like Steinhardt exploit young people to evoke emotions that lead to strife and disharmony. In Rye, I think we have the grace to recognize our differences and the humanity to overcome them to form a community that is not only inclusive but supportive without denigrating one group as Mr Gaouad appears to do. From the McGill paper last month Mr Gaouad writes.

    What pains me the most about a bourgeois American community like Rye is that so many of my peers will go on never questioning their implicit racism.

    I will never forgive Rye for not making me feel welcome when I first arrived.

    It is unfortunate that Mr Gaouad suffered while in Rye via his proximity to the whites who exploited the lenape indians, the stolen land, the white colonial past the bourgeois ignorance, a school district which fail to change the community demographics before his arrival. Mr Gaouads brash prose is practically mandatory for a young man of 19. I hope we as a community do listen, he has something important to say, but the harshness and gracelessness inures his cause and prevents the recognition of our common humanity we need to solve this problem. I for one will take the view of the foundation against intolerance and racisms.

  10. Here is an open question to the Rye Community – is this part of my “fear mongering” and my “only agenda”?

    https://reason.com/2021/05/04/california-math-framework-woke-equity-calculus/

    https://forward.com/opinion/464493/california-ethnic-studies-curriculum-antisemitism-scandal/

    https://equitablemath.org/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

    Have I come up with these things? Or did the CRT supporters manage to sneak in their disastrous ideas into curriculum? Can you honestly believe that somehow, magically Rye will escape this if we continue down the Steinhardt path?

  11. We are told that CRT has nothing to do with Marxism.

    “Don’t just say something like ‘well, critical race theory is bad because it is Marxism’. Such a questionable statement is your only agenda, your only platform. Not to mention your political fear mongering tactics, likening critical race theory to ‘millions of senseless deaths’. Likening us who advocate for curricular and policy changes to ‘Marxist manipulators’. We are not Marxists, nor are we manipulators; we are just Rye alumni who continue to be deeply affected and wounded by the racism we were confronted with in Rye and decided to do something about it. Our ideas have nothing to do with Marxism nor politics”

    Let’s open an article on critical theories at Encyclopedia Britannica and read the definition:

    “Critical theory, Marxist-inspired movement in social and political philosophy originally associated with the work of the Frankfurt School. Drawing particularly on the thought of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, critical theorists maintain that a primary goal of philosophy is to understand and to help overcome the social structures through which people are dominated and oppressed.”

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