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Cancelled black history event encouraged students to ‘dress up’ as black leaders

Principal admits to ‘error in judgement’

Melbourne High School.
Melbourne High School. (Florida Today)

MELBOURNE, Fla. – A planned Black History Month event at a majority-white Brevard County high school encouraged students to come to school wearing an “African themed head wrap or turban” and “dress up as an inspiring black leader,” News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

Plans for what Melbourne High School Principal Chad Kirk called a “black history spirit week” in an email to parents were cancelled Thursday after the school began receiving complaints, Kirk told Florida Today.

"After reflecting on the decision, I wanted to make sure we were being culturally sensitive to students on campus and in the community," Kirk said.

The week-long event, which Kirk said was devised by a group of black students, was scheduled to begin next Monday and featured daily "themes" like:

  • "Wear your African themed Dashiki shirt"
  • "Wear an African themed head wrap or turban"
  • "Dress up as an inspiring black leader"
  • "Wear all black in honor of black history month"
  • “Wear the colors of your favorite African flag”

In a Wednesday email announcing the event, Kirk encouraged "all students" to participate. Only about 7% of students at the school are black, according to data from the Florida Department of Education.

The event had not yet taken place and there were no reports of any incidents. Nevertheless, Kirk was quick to issue an apology in a follow-up email Thursday, calling his endorsement an “error in judgement.”

"I realize that decision gave the impression that I took the history and challenges of our African-American community lightly," Kirk wrote. "I wish to convey my personal apology to any individuals or groups who may have been offended by my short-sighted decision."

A handful of people on social media expressed outrage, including some current and former students who labeled the planned event “racist” and “out-of-touch.”

Carmel Alshaibi, a senior in the school's International Baccalaureate program, said at first she thought it was a bad joke.

"It just seemed so ridiculous," she said, adding she felt the idea was "condescending" to people of color.

"It’s also a blatant example of whitewashing by appropriating sacred clothing from Africans and treating it like dress up," Alshaibi said.

Melbourne High alum and community activist Patricia Davis said she was pleased Kirk cancelled the event, calling it "poorly conceived."

"They could talk to any African American group to get feedback on what would be appropriate," Davis said via text.

"As a bulldog (alumnus) and someone who celebrates black history during Kwanzaa, it's very important that we treat all of our students with respect to their culture and history," she said.

Kirk agreed, saying he got caught up in the excitement of the students who pitched the idea. He said he discussed the idea with "a few individuals on staff" before sending the email, but admitted he should have done more.

"On reflection, I really should have taken the opportunity to sit with those students and educate them on what could happen with an event like this," he said.

“We’re looking forward to moving on next week and continuing to celebrate the achievements of African American leaders in our classrooms.”