Black Teachers Fired By NYC Principal Who Said They Had “Big Lips” And Looked Like “A Gorilla In A Sweater With Nappy Hair”

June 28, 2013  |  


According to a petition put together by Kevin Powell and the folks of BK Nation, two teachers from a high school in Queens have filed a discrimination claim against a principal who they said fired them for racially motivated reasons after she referred to them both as having “big lips” and “nappy hair” to other faculty members. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, it is crazy that people, especially those in positions of power, still think it’s okay to talk like this in 2013.

The two teachers, John Flanagan, who taught Spanish, and Heather Hightower, who was behind ESL-Science, say they were fired by Principal Minerva Zanca of Pan American International High School after she told them there were budget cuts and gave them poor performance ratings for their work. But they, along with theatre teacher Lisa-Erika James and Assistant Principal Anthony Riccardo, think it was racially motivated after Zanca was reportedly caught speaking of Flanagan and Hightower in a disgusting way. Riccardo, who is also filing a harassment claim says that during Post-Observation Conferences recently, Zanca told him that Hightower “looked like a gorilla in a sweater with nappy hair,” while also asking, “Did you see his big lips quivering?” when speaking about John Flanagan. Because of that, these teachers, including Lisa-Erika James, felt targeted and have decided to file a claim against her hoping to get their jobs back.

But that’s not enough for Kevin Powell, political activist, writer and president of BK Nation (you know him), who has started a petition to have Principal Zanca removed for her behavior. Here’s what he had to say:

“It is not only important to have high standards for our public school teachers. But we must also support the good ones, like these teachers, who are completely dedicated to their young people. I find it unacceptable that a principal can engage in this kind of conduct without any repercussions. We are not going to stop until due justice and process is served here. We are calling on the school district and the DOE to review this matter thoroughly, to deal with the facts fairly, and to make it clear that racial bias and mistreatment of teachers in any form is not tolerated in New York City.”

James, who was also fired, is also part of the claim against this principal made by Hightower and Flanagan, and she says that at a school that is made up of predominately Afro-Latino students, a woman like that shouldn’t be making all the decisions because her way of thinking is clearly skewed. She says, “It is deeply disappointing that Ms. Zanca has made such hurtful racial epithets and is allowed to run a school where many of the children are of Afro-Latino descent.”

According to the petition, after the firing of these teachers, there are no more African-American teachers at Pan American International. Sad.

If all this is true, Ms. Zanca is definitely the wrong person to be over a school like this. If you’re interested in signing the petition, or want more info on the story, be sure to check it out on

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