Parents hope for redemption and growth following conviction for racist graffiti

  • Sharon Houle introduces her husband, Eric, to the John Stark Dirstrict School Board as they prepare to speak about the issues their children have faced at school before the budget meeting on Friday night at John Stark Regional High School. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 5/19/2023 5:31:29 PM
Modified: 5/19/2023 5:29:00 PM

After a 17-year-old from Weare was convicted for violating New Hampshire’s Civil Rights Act for his involvement in racist graffiti vandalism against a fellow student at John Stark Regional High School last year, the parents of the victim hope the incident plays a crucial role in fostering a valuable learning experience for the teenager and the community. 

“We want him to learn from this,” said Sharon and Eric Houle, the parents of the targeted biracial student, who were at Hillsborough County Superior Court during the teenager’s trial on Monday. “We want him to be able to step up and protect other kids from other people who are doing these things.”

Last April, the 17-year-old along with two other teenagers were accused of defacing the school’s bathroom walls with racially motivated graffiti and offensive phrases such as “Blacks stand no chance” and “KKK,” as well as carving swastikas.

Ever since the incident, the Houles, parents to two biracial sons and a white biological daughter have been actively working with the school board and local community to emphasize the importance of community education regarding diversity and inclusion. Rather than focusing solely on punitive measures, their efforts have been dedicated to fostering understanding and acceptance among the teenagers involved.

As part of the sentencing, Judge Andy Messer ordered the teenager to complete 100 hours of community service and write a 3,000-word paper on “the impact of racism and racist speech on society.”

The judgment was met with approval from the Houles. Sharon Houle said the judge did a great job since she wanted the outcome to help him change for the better and succeed in life rather than wreck the teenager’s life.

As for the other 17-year-old, a settlement had been reached with state prosecutors earlier in January, agreeing to similar terms.

“I definitely believe they were treated fairly,” said Eric Houle and clarified that their sons are no longer friends with the students involved in the incident.

According to the Houles, two of the three teenagers expressed remorse and wrote sincere apology letters, acknowledging their mistake and actively seeking ways to rectify the situation. However, the other 17-year-old claimed no involvement in the act until the day of the trial.

For the Houle family, having the school district address diversity issues has been a struggle over the years. Every time the parents brought up that there was an issue concerning racial discrimination, the administrators and teachers dismissed it as “kids being kids,” they said.

“Even our classes in school, they only teach happy American history, they don’t teach that the stuff that we’ve done,” explained Sharon Houle regarding the insufficient inclusion of topics such as slavery and Native American genocide in school curriculum. “This is part of the problem of why these things are motivated because we’re not teaching the horrible stuff that we did in American history.”

As parents, the Houles say it is challenging to navigate such situations when their children are threatened for just being who they are.

“Someone threatened to kill my child because he was a different color,” said Eric Houle. “He didn’t make anyone mad, he didn’t fight with anyone, he just looked different.”

The Houles said children from the LGBTQ+ community who look and feel different get picked on too, which should not be the case.

Despite the challenges their family faced over the last year, the Houles are proud of the resilience their children have shown.

Their youngest son, who is in middle school, has become more comfortable with his identity and stands up for himself. Their oldest son, the target of the incident, is looking forward to his graduation next month and moving forward positively. Their daughter actively fights for equal treatment and challenges teachers when presented with inaccurate information about race and history.

“We got here because nobody thought it was important to reteach and re-educate the kids,” said the Houles reflecting on all that the family has been through over the last year. “But I think we’re moving in the right direction, and that we’re really hoping that people are seeing this and they’re stepping up and talking in their school districts.

Sruthi Gopalakrishnan

Sruthi Gopalakrishnan covers environmental and energy stories in Bow, Hopkinton, Dunbarton and Warner for the Concord Monitor. In 2022, she graduated from Northwestern University with a master's degree in journalism, specializing in investigative reporting. She also has a bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Engineering and is always looking for new ways to incorporate data and visual elements into her stories. Her work has appeared in Energy News Network, Prism Reports and Crain's Chicago Business.

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