GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Two Triad principals have a bond that goes back more than 15 years to their graduate school days. Their friendship opened the door to some tough but eye-opening conversations about things like race, poverty and equity. Today, they’re using those lessons to get through to their students and lead their school communities through understanding.
“We met in class and said hey let’s try to carpool together and then it evolved from there,” said Erik Naglee, principal of Page High School.
“We just started having conversations on the way to and fro class and after a while we just kind of forged this friendship,” said Marcus Gause, principal of T. Wingate Andrews High School.
At the time, Gause and Naglee were doing double duty working for Guilford County Schools and commuting to grad school at UNC-Chapel Hill twice a week.
“So a lot of the things we talked about were just kind of life things that fathers go through in the midst of trying to raise kids and work and go to school at the same time,” Gause said.
On one of those drives, he got pulled over. He says the interaction with the officer was not positive.
“When we pulled off, I remember this look on Erik’s face like that shouldn’t happen, I don’t know why that happened, that was really uncomfortable and that was really intense,” he said.
They talked about it. They also talked about the differences in their experiences with police. Their talks grew from there.
“We started with simple conversation, understanding each other’s culture,” Naglee said. “I think that’s the easiest place to start. Understanding how the churches are alike. How they’re different. How hairstyles are different. Basic conversations about that.”
“We were having conversation and I was like, ‘What in the world is going on with your people?'” Gause reflected. “His response was, ‘We got some challenges as white folks, but y’all got some challenges as Black folks too.’ And when we both fell out laughing after that comment, I think that was one of those defining moments of, I got somebody who really understands but also has a sense of humor about it.”
They went on to become principals. We’ve featured them both on FOX8. Gause most recently when he went viral for his musical sendoff to his Andrews High School graduates. Naglee just last week for a new program at Page High School to empower students to create change in their communities. Their safe place in one another helps them create safe places for their students.
“There have been conversations we’ve had, thinking about the awkwardness, where I’ve said, ‘OK don’t you ever ask any other Black person this at all. You ask me. If you need to say it again, you call me back and ask me again.’ And he’s said the same thing to me,” Gause said.
Naglee told us about a recent breakthrough with a student with whom he had a rocky start.
“He and I sat down in my office talking about another issue he came to me about and he started laughing. And I’m like, ‘What are you laughing about?’ He said, ‘You really know these streets. I didn’t expect you to know the streets like this.’ That was powerful to me. It sort of broke that wall down because it was clear that interaction with a young Black male, and obviously I’m a white male. We didn’t really understand each other until that moment. He didn’t understand I did know what was going on and I was there to support him and love him up along the way,” he said.
“As educators, we both understand there is power in knowing. If you don’t know, I can’t expect you to understand what that world looks like,” Gause said.
In the next edition of In Black and White, next Thursday at 6 p.m., we’ll tell you more about a new effort they’re launching to take what they’ve learned from one another into the community that they hope will help people navigate through the gray areas of race.