By Adam Bass
Darius Gregory, the only African American who sits on the Town Council, said he would no longer attend public meetings after learning a book written by women of color was banned from North Attleborough school libraries.
During a council meeting on Jan. 22, Gregory walked out to protest a committee’s decision to ban the book, “Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice.” The book, written by Mahogany L. Browne, Olivia Gatwood and Elizabeth Acevedo, consists of poems about civil justice, racial justice, environmental justice, body positivity and other forms of activism—all authored by women of color.
According to School Superintendent Dr. John Antonucci, a parent of a student at Martin Elementary School asked that the book be removed from shelves last year. The parent’s reasoning for wanting to ban the book is not known. Antonucci said a committee that consisted of a principal, a teacher, a parent, a librarian and the elementary school curriculum coordinator decided in May of 2023 to remove the book because they considered the title “unnecessarily divisive.”
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word ‘woke’ describes someone or something aware of and pays attention to issues impacting society, specifically social and racial justice. The word has also been used negatively towards those who identify as politically liberal or progressive.
Gregory said he found out about the book’s removal after his wife showed him an article published in the Boston Globe on Jan. 19. According to the article, North Attleborough was one of five towns that banned a book in 2024, the other four being Westwood, Wilmington, Marblehead and Ludlow.
At the council meeting, Gregory said he was outraged by the decision. He added it was insulting to him as an African American that a book written by women of color was removed because of its title.
“It is embarrassing to me as an African American male; it embarrassed my wife; it embarrassed the Town Council,” Gregory said. “This has undermined everything I have done in this chair to bring this town together.”
Gregory also faulted Antonucci for allowing the ban to go forward. He argued that the superintendent could have prevented the book’s removal.
“You fumbled. You fumbled at the one yard line,” Gregory said. “I cannot sit in this seat unless there is real change, starting with the unbanning of this book.”
Gregory then got up from his chair and left the building—vowing he would not attend public meetings until steps were taken to put the book back onto shelves.
Antonucci could not be reached for further comment.
Gregory’s fellow councilors were shocked by his departure, but supported his decision nonetheless. Town Council Vice President John Simmons gave Gregory his full support and said banning books in any capacity is something he is vehemently against.
“Banning books is against everything that we stand for,” Simmons said. “If you don’t like speech, the answer is more speech. It’s never less speech.”
Councilor Andrea Slobogan agreed with Simmons, calling the decision to ban the book “un-American.”
“I do not believe in banning books or art in any form,” Slobogan said. “The idea we are going to take that away from anyone is not very American.”
Gregory and the council were not the only ones who spoke out against the decision to ban the book. State Rep. Adam Scanlon (D-North Attleborough)was at the meeting and denounced the ban and decried the lack of transparency from Antouncci and the committee. Scanlon said he learned about the ban from his colleagues on Beacon Hill before Gov. Maura Healey’s State of the Commonwealth Address. Scanlon said he was furious when he found out, and said there must be a policy to ensure no more books are banned.
“I am angry that it happened in May of last year and that no alternative policy has been put forward to prevent this from happening again,” Scanlon said. “Why should one book be available at one school and not the other? My friends, our country has already had to fight on if things should be considered, ‘separate but equal.’”
The council has no role in banning or unbanning books, as it falls under the jurisdiction of North Attleborough Public Schools. Councilor Mark Gould, who was also against the decision to remove the book, said constituents who disagree with the decision should attend the next School Committee meeting on Feb. 6 to express their support for returning the book to shelves.
“This falls under their guidelines and it’s important for people to participate,” Gould said. “As for Darius, he has my full support and I respect and honor his decision.”