There was a huge outpouring of grief in April after 14-year-old Nigel Shelby committed suicide following months of homophobic abuse from other students at his school.
On Monday, Nigel's mother, Camika Shelby, called for an investigation into her son's death and made alarming claims about the conduct of school officials before he killed himself on April 18.
“After my son passed, I learned that he had several discussions about homosexuality with school administrators and was told that being gay was a choice. I was never contacted by the school and informed that my son was struggling with his sexual identity and regularly having discussions with a school administrator," she said in a statement.
"Several hours after my son died, a school administrator called me and told me to look for a suicide note in his backpack. People at his school knew that planned to take his own life. I need to find out who knew and why nobody told me until after he died.”
Shelby has hired civil rights attorneys Benjamin Crump and Jasmine Rand to help her get to the bottom of what happened.
Nigel was a freshman at Huntsville High School in Alabama before his death. Shelby said students had spent months bullying Nigel and that he was well known by school administrators because of it.
Nigel struggled with depression but the school claimed they never got any complaints of harassment or bullying.
"In too many schools and communities throughout the country, Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender loving students are harassed, bullied, and forced to endure additional stress as a result of their intersectional identities," said David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition.
"Suicide rates of Black gay boys are on the rise as they are struggling with the matrix of oppression presented by being both Black and gay. We will work with Nigel’s mother and his attorneys to determine changes that can be made within his school, and other schools in the community, to support culturally competent and intercultural awareness through sex education and other inclusion and anti-bullying policies.”
Last year, the Journal of the American Medical Association released an eye-opening study on child suicide. The association found that the rate of suicide for Black children between the ages of five and 12 had surpassed those of white children.
More than 30% of all elementary school-age suicides involve Black children now.
“The administrators at Nigel’s school had a duty to ensure his safety and to address any bullying he experienced because of his sexuality and/or gender identity. Instead, administrators bullied him, told him being gay is a choice, and had several discussions about his sexuality with him instead of informing his mother and leaving it to a professional counselor," Crump and Rand wrote in a statement.
"As civil rights leaders, we have a duty to ensure all of our children are safe in school and treated with equality, and that educators address and guide children struggling with gender and racial identity issues in a positive and loving way that benefits the growth of the child.