To the surprise of many in the local community, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta in February issued a statement in support of one of its board members and chair of the Gwinnett County Board of Education, who has been attacked for her views on race and diversity.
We don’t typically” issue such statements, acknowledged JCRCA President Harold Kirtz, but “we have never had a board member criticized like that before.” He said the JCRCA board discussed the proposed statement and there was “no hesitation” in supporting its issuance.
The statement expressed support for “the tenure of Dr. Tarece Johnson as an elected member and Chair of the Gwinnett County Board of Education.” It noted that Johnson is the “only Black Jew who is a member of the county board of education in Georgia” and that she “has unjustly been the target of a smear campaign.”
In fact, Johnson told the AJT that the “hostile environment” that has surrounded her and her two children in the past year or so has forced her to buy a gun and install a security system in her home. “I hate guns. When I went to buy it and go to classes, I literally cried holding it,” she said.
But if the JCRCA had hoped its statement would extinguish some of the rancor against Johnson, one had only to read its Facebook page to see that it did not.
“Now I’ve seen it all … the Jewish Community supporting racists!” read one comment. “We do NOT send our children to school to be indoctrinated by Marxists!” read another. One commenter, drifting from the initial subject, suggested that “this page is clearly in bed with the same people that GET PAID for masks to stay on children.”
There were also dozens of comments supporting Johnson. “This illustrates exactly what has been happening for over a year to Dr. Tarece and her family,” read one.
“One would think some folks maybe have jobs or children to tend to. Nope. The need to troll and spew hate against a Black, female Jewish leader is more important. You have shown yourselves perfectly. Grotesquely so.”
Another comment directed to Johnson stated, “the fact that you are dealing with all these racist and negative comments just proves that your comments are valid and absolutely correct. Some people are ‘socialized racists’ so much so that they can’t even see themselves in their authentic truth.”
When asked to comment on the vitriol expressed on the JCRCA Facebook page, Kirtz said, “It’s total B.S. I don’t know what else to say. I don’t do social media myself. In fact, I had to reinstate my Facebook just to see what kind of comments” were being posted. “The way she’s been attacked is totally uncalled for.”
Kirtz maintains that the JCRCA statement was directed at the community at large, as opposed to just the Jewish community. “Large parts of the Jewish community are supportive of her,” he said. And just by looking at the names of the people who commented on the Facebook page, he said, “not everyone were members of the Jewish community.”
Johnson, who was elected to the Gwinnett County Board of Education in 2020 but started her job in 2021, is no stranger to controversy. She acknowledged that she is outspoken. “I’m a justice fighter. I teach my Jewish values and I teach my Black values. All of these things create an environment in which people see me as a threat.”
Since Johnson has not received any direct death threats, the Gwinnett police department has not responded to her pleas for help. “I have made several FBI reports and civil rights complaints, but I have received no reply,” she said.
Johnson contends that the environment of hostility that has been created around her is similar to the environment that preceded both the 2011 shooting of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords — which resulted in six dead — and the fatal shooting in 2020 of the son of Federal Judge Esther Salas.
Johnson did not want to publicly identify the synagogue to which her family belongs and where she teaches Sunday School due to her fears that someone could act on their hatred, nor did she want to name the schools her children attend.
On the JCRCA Facebook page, several writers charged that Johnson does not send her children to Gwinnett County schools. However, one of her children does attend a Gwinnett public school, while the other attends a private school in the Atlanta area. Both had graduated from Jewish elementary day schools.
Johnson, who has a doctorate degree in education and describes herself as a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant, said that she is not sorry to be a member of the school board. The Gwinnett County public school district is one of the most diverse in the state, with students from more than 181 countries who speak at least 100 different languages.
The attacks against Johnson have come not only from ordinary citizens, but also from state politicians. “They’re taking my private life and creating a narrative. They are pulling [social media] content from before I was elected,” to harass her, she said. She is up for reelection in 2024. When asked if she will run again, she said she didn’t know.
Meanwhile, Kirtz hopes that the attacks on Johnson “won’t snowball,” he said. “The point of our statement was to set the record straight. I hope that will be the end of it.”