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Longtime Bronx educator says she was fired after refusing to perform 'Wakanda Forever' salute

The woman was one year away from retiring when she was fired from her post with Bronx schools.

Updated: February 21, 2021 - 5:21pm

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A woman who was fired from her post as the head of Community School District 12 in Bronx alleges that she was sacked in part for declining to place her arms across her chest to perform a gesture from the popular Black Panther film.

Then-Bronx superintendent Meisha Ross Porter frequently asked people present at meetings of Department of Education leaders to perform the gesture, according to the New York Post.

Rafaela Espinal identifies as Afro-Latina, and when she refused to take part, she "was admonished and told that it was inappropriate for her not to participate," according to a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit lodged against New York City's Department of Education, Chancellor Richard Carranza and others.

Espinal had been a year away from retirement when she was suddenly fired from her post after repeatedly declining to perform the "Wakanda forever" salute, her lawsuit reportedly indicates.

"Desperate to keep her retirement benefits and health insurance, the single mom — who recently earned a doctorate — eventually accepted a humiliating demotion to school investigator, a role which requires only a high school diploma and which left her with no permanent desk or phone," the Post reported.

According to the outlet, Porter's Twitter timeline includes posts of DOE staff performing the pose. One image shows Espinal on the right in a red jacket: 

But when Espinal was repeatedly asked to do the move at other meetings she thought that it "introduced a racial divide where there should be none," her lawyers said.

The attorneys said that Porter would often discuss the Black Panthers group, noting that her father was a member. The Post said that a raised fist is the pose connected with the Black Panthers group, not the gesture made popular by the Black Panther film.

The DOE claims that the crossed-arms pose does not pertain to "Black power," but is "a symbol used to represent the Bronx.”