High school investigating how racist photo depicting student with MLK ended up in yearbook

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — The principal of a Gwinnett County high school has sent a letter to parents apologizing for a racist picture that made it into the school’s yearbook.

The photo shows a young man with an image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. photoshopped behind him.

In the picture, the student is holding a notebook that says, “official N-word pass.”

On top of an apology, the letter from the principal of Collins Hill High School promises the school will get to the bottom of how the offensive picture made it all the way into the printed yearbook.

One student told Channel 2 Gwinnett County Bureau Chief Tony Thomas that this is just another blow in what has been an already tough senior year.

Graduating senior Aaliyah Williams was beyond excited to go to the school on Tuesday and pick up her final yearbook. Then she turned to page 148.

“I’m excited for the yearbook. I get to see all the exciting memories and I open the book and I see this. And it’s like, wow! It hurts me to the core,” Williams said. “Of everything that’s going on right now, that shouldn’t be a joke. It shouldn’t be a joke right now. It’s nothing to play around with.”


Aaliyah’s mother, Kavanti White, took to Facebook and her posts went viral with upset parents and students.

“Her senior year she’s already had enough to deal with,” White said. “I’m offended. I’m offended only because who allowed it to get out? Where was your committee? I understand there are students on the committee but there are adults and teachers over the committee.”

In the letter sent by Collins Hills principal Kerensa Wing, she wrote, “This is unacceptable, and we are currently investigating to determine who submitted this photo and how our processes did not address this before it went to print.”

“When I looked at it, I thought, ‘Oh my God. This is real?’ This is, like, people take out the time to do this and think it’s a joke,” Williams said.

In the letter, the principal said some of the yearbook pages were not complete when in-person classes stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the yearbook company replaced some of those pages with senior selfies submitted by students.

“It’s like another thing to add to your list for 2020,” White said.

Williams is now trying to figure out what to do with her yearbook.

“Me scratching it out, it’s not going to do anything. I’ve already seen it and it’s already affected me. So there is no point of me keeping that,” Williams said.

It remains unclear if the student pictured in the photo was a willing participant or if the offensive parts of the picture were photoshopped in without his knowledge. That remains part of the district’s investigation.

For those yearbooks still in administrators’ possession, they would be blocking out the offensive picture and continuing to hand out the yearbooks.

The principal said they are working with the vendor for a sticker of a replacement photo that will be mailed to everyone who bought a book.

UPDATE: The principal of Collins Hill High School sent home another letter to parents on Thursday saying they are recalling the years books and will be replaced with new ones once they are reprinted without the image.

“As a first step in rebuilding that trust, we are going to print new revised yearbooks, replacing this photo. Although we were presented with other options initially, we decided this was the right thing to do. As a result, we are calling for an immediate recall of ALL 2020 yearbooks that have been distributed. I will have staff on site to collect the recalled yearbooks on June 17th from 4-6 p.m. and June 18th from 11 a.m.– 1 p.m. Once I review and approve the new revised yearbook, it will be printed and copies should arrive for distribution the week of July 5th. I want to thank Herff Jones for making this happen so quickly and their support with part of the reprinting costs.”