A former neo-Nazi who turned her life around and became a motivational speaker warning of the dangers of hate groups has been banned from speaking at a Virginia middle school.
Shannon Foley Martinez’s work as a speaker helping others leave white supremacist groups has been endorsed by the Virginia Holocaust Museum, who was sponsoring her talk to students at the school about the dangers of hate and supremacist ideologies.
However, Manchester Middle School in Chesterfield, Virginia cancelled Foley Martinez’s scheduled talk after backlash from the community.
“This speaker was approved by our central office leadership and is sponsored by the [Virginia] Holocaust Museum, but has also participated in dozens of nationally acclaimed programs in an effort to discuss and end hate groups,” the school initially said in a letter to parents, according to NBC12.
But later the school said it had received negative feedback and had “determined that it is not in our best interest at this time to provide this guest speakers session to our students and will not be inviting Ms. Martinez in to speak with our students.”
The Virginia Holocaust Museum described Martinez as a “reformed neo-Nazi, white-power skinhead” who strives to combat the ideology of white supremacism. It offered her as a speaker to schools across the state.
Parents were told by the school that they could opt-in their children if they were interested.
However, the school received a flurry of angry responses from parents. In response, they cancelled the speech.
Virginia Holocaust Museum executive director Sam Asher told NBC12 that they weren’t trying to make students “feel uncomfortable.”
“In fact what we’re doing is helping students and giving them the tools to use if they ever see these types of situations, and how do they deal with it.”
Foley Martinez said she was unhappy with the decision but understood that not everyone feels comfortable around her due to her previous lifestyle.
“I try to empower them to recognize messages… and be better inoculated against finding resonance with communities and content that are targeting them to try to get them to embrace hate,” Martinez told the news outlet.
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