Activist says B-CU targeted her over petitions; wants apology

BY ANDREAS BUTLER
DAYTONA TIMES

Norma Bland, a longtime local community and civil rights activist, is upset with Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU).

Bland is angry about being directly named on a school press release.

She believes the school has defamed her, violated her civil rights and human rights and jeopardized her safety.

Bland’s complaint is about a May 10 press release that listed her as delivering boxes of petitions to the university that stated opposition to U.S Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as the spring commencement keynote speaker.

The release from B-CU states: “We have received petitions advanced by the American Federation of Teachers, NAACP, and the Florida Education Association, all which were delivered by a Bethune-Cookman University alum, and three community residents, including Ms. Norma Bland.

‘No newsfeed’
On May 9, the day before DeVos addressed students, a group of protesters marched to the campus and delivered boxes of petitions they said had about 60,000 signatures on it. B-CU said in the press release that the number was closer to 6,000.

Bland says she was not involved in delivering the boxes with petitions. However, Bland, 68, said she was at the library because she is attending the school in pursuit of a master’s degree in criminal justice administration.

“There is no newsfeed from CNN, NBC, WESH 2, News-Journal or any media outlet showing me delivering petitions. Not one time did I have any box in my hand,” she told the Daytona Times. “I was at the library and there is security footage that shows I did come out to check on the students. I spoke to some people and went back to the library.’’

She added, “I want an apology and full retraction. They identified me as a member of the community and not a student. I was at the library.’’

Feels singled out
The press release originated from B-CU’s Communication Department and had current Director of Communications Ursula James as the contact person. James was the Assistant Director of Communications at that time.

Bland lists James in her complaint and says that the school director singled her out.

The Daytona Times attempted to reach James but she hadn’t responded by the newspaper’s Wednesday deadline.

Grimes responds
Bland says that the school has yet to respond to her complaint.

“I spoke with an attorney and he asked me to ask Mr. (Hugh) Grimes for a letter of an apology.”
Grimes, Bethune-Cookman’s legal counsel, said he responded.

“I thought it was a done deal and that she had dropped the issue. I haven’t seen a formal complaint,” he told the Times. “It’s been a while. I did respond to her emails. If she wants me to look into the matter further, I will. We will handle the situation appropriately.”
Bland says that B-CU is pushing the matter under the rug.

“I feel as though they are doing what Bethune-Cookman does. They dismiss situations which they know that they have created unnecessarily and untruthfully,’’ she remarked.

Safety, health concerns
Bland says that she fears for her safety.

“I haven’t felt safe from the beginning of this. I am being labeled and not anyone else. With all this craziness going on across the country, it could have been where someone who supported DeVos and came up and hit me upside the head or something. Or they could have attacked my 93-year old mother or someone in my family because of this,” explained Bland.

Bland, who is disabled, says the matter has affected her health.

“I started having headaches and my blood pressure has risen. It could have affected my grades. I spend six to seven days a week in that library from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. and sometimes 7 to 8 p.m. at night,” Bland said.

Bland plans to continue her fight.

“I love this institution. I was practically raised on this campus. It’s the leadership that I have concerns with and the way that they treat people in general,” she added.

“This could have been avoided. It’s been three months. This behavior needs to stop. If they don’t address the issue, I will have to do it in another matter. I am in my constitutional right to do so.’’

NAACP support
Bland also has complained to the Volusia County/Daytona Beach NAACP chapter.

“Ms. Bland denies the report and says it’s dishonest and disingenuous. I believe that she is asking for an apology and a retraction which the NAACP supports. She has been referred to legal counsel,” stated Cynthia Slater, president of the local chapter.

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