A Colorado Springs elementary school will implement diversity training after some faculty members were offended by a second-grade white child who painted his face black to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. for a class project.
His mother told television station KRDO that he wore a black suit, a black tie, a white shirt and a mustache. He also wanted to paint his face black. She said her son was very excited about the project.
Michelle King-Roca and her husband were among the parents who had been invited to watch the classroom presentations – and that’s when they learned that Sean’s tribute to MLK had gotten him into trouble.
“Right before it was time to come in (to the classroom), the principal came up and stated he (Sean) was to take the face mask off,” King-Roca told the television station. “There was a person in the faculty who had a problem with it.”
Stephanie Meredith, a spokesperson for the school, told Fox News that several staff members were offended by the little boy’s tribute to MLK.
“A staff member stated that a black face painted like that is offensive to some of the African-American community,” Meredith said, noting that not a single student had complained. “We were trying to make sure that the learning environment is a safe and secure environment for every student and every educator in our building.”
“The principal explained this could conjure up a painful past for the African-American community,” she said. “Makeup could be hurtful to others.”
The one item everyone can agree on – neither Sean nor his parents meant to be offensive.
“Clearly it was not the intent of the parents or the student at all to be offensive,” Meredith said. “We never thought that a second grader was trying to be offensive or was trying to be hurtful in any way.”
King-Roca said the principal instructed the boy to remove his face paint.
“They thought it was inappropriate and it will be disrespectful to black people and I say it’s not,” Sean told KRDO. “I like black people. It’s just a costume and I don’t want to insult anybody.”
Other parents chimed in and said the principal’s request was ridiculous.
“I’ve never seen anything like this happen before,” parent Pam Page told the television station. “I’m extremely disappointed. If my own son, who is blonde, was chosen to do Martin Luther King, Jr., I would have gotten him a black wig and painted his face, too.”
Meredith said the parents chose not to remove the face paint – and decided to take their son home.
“We are sad the parents were so upset and felt isolated,” she said. “We didn’t ask the parents or the student to leave.”
But King-Roca told local media that they were asked by the school district to leave the property. She said school officials treated them rudely.
Meredith said the child was not punished and is back in school.
“We’re hoping this can be an opportunity to open up dialogue and discussion about different people’s cultures and their experiences,” she said.
And that’s where the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP comes into the story.
“Unfortunately, by having blackface as part of his presentation, it ended up harkening back to a really tragic time in the life of this country, a time when blackface was used by entertainers primarily to demean African-Americans, and in a way I know this young man couldn’t have intended,” NAACP president Rosemary Harris Lytle told the television station.
She did say that she was proud of the child for deciding to portray the slain civil rights leader.
As a result of the incident, Meredith said they are going to work with the NAACP to develop “diversity training.”