Yulee family receives community’s support

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  • Xanah and Xarah Sproul say they haven’t let racist comments made in an anonymous letter ruin their high school graduation experience. “And still I rise,” a quote from Maya Angelou, decorated their lawn during a parade of supporters driving past their house. JULIA ROBERTS/NEWS-LEADER
    Xanah and Xarah Sproul say they haven’t let racist comments made in an anonymous letter ruin their high school graduation experience. “And still I rise,” a quote from Maya Angelou, decorated their lawn during a parade of supporters driving past their house. JULIA ROBERTS/NEWS-LEADER
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At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama first said her now-famous quote – “When they go low, we go high” – describing how best to deal with bullies.

An example of that attitude is Toya Sproul’s response to what she calls a “hateful letter” her family received after they posted large graduation photos of her twin daughters at the front of their house. Like many members of the Class of 2020, Xanah and Xarah’s graduation ceremony was affected by guidelines limiting crowds due to the novel coronavirus. Also like many families, the Sprouls posted congratulation wishes on their front lawn.

On July 23, the Sproul family received a letter in the mail that made disparaging remarks about the girls’ photos, but Toya told the News-Leader – and even the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, according to a report – that she does not want to disclose the specific message in the letter, only that it was racial in nature.

“It was a hateful letter,” Toya said. “It doesn’t deserve any press.”

She said she knows few people in the Timber Creek Plantation subdivision. Although she was told some neighbors sent the letter, she would not name anyone without proof.

Xanah and Xarah told the News-Leader the letter surprised them.

“This is the first time anything like this has happened,” Xanah said, standing near lawn signs expressing support for the girls. “Everyone here is so nice, and so is the school.”

Toya said it was the first experience with harassment the family had experienced.

Instead of having the effect of intimidating the Sproul family or creating division in the community, the letter brought people together.

The story was posted to social media and aired on national news outlets. As a result, the family has received an outpouring of support. Last Thursday, a “love parade” of at least 200 cars drove past the Sproul’s home to show the family they are welcome.

“The community has been beyond supportive,” Toya said. “I can’t even put it into words how grateful we are. People came from different parts of
Florida. It wasn’t just locals. It was very moving. The girls are still walking on air.”

The girls will attend Saint Leo University and then plan to go to medical school. They did not seem to be affected by the letter, but smiled and talked about their future.

“This is a nice town, a friendly town,” Xarah said. “(Whoever sent the letter) was one person.”

Toya Sproul said she had not, as of Monday evening, heard from the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office about their investigation of the incident. Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said the case has been turned over to the FBI in order to see if the letter qualifies as a hate crime, but that determination has not been made. The case has also been turned in to the State Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Postal Service; calls to those offices were not returned by the press deadline.

Leeper told the News-Leader Tuesday that so far there has been no movement in the case. He said the letter was mailed out of Jacksonville, which may affect the investigation.

“We at the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office do not tolerate racism and hate crimes in our county. This is out of character for Nassau County and we will continue to investigate this incident. We are proud of the Sproul twins’ accomplishments and hope to get to the bottom of this soon,” a statement by Undersheriff Roy Henderson said.

Toya said since the story has been on social media, there have been some negative comments, but her family won’t retaliate and doesn’t have to defend itself since others respond to negative posts for her.

“We don’t give that stuff any life,” she said. “Everybody has an opinion. People have the right to say what they want to say, and think what
they want to think, but we know the truth, and it will be handled by the authorities.”

Toya said that from a place of hate came a message of love: “That one
letter can turn into so much love and support.”

jroberts@fbnewsleader.com