During a Black History Month celebration at Carvers Bay High School, the Rev. Kylon Middleton spent about 20 minutes talking about the accomplishments of the black community and encouraging all students, regardless of race, to succeed despite adversity.
But it’s the five minutes of his speech when he mentioned “black power” and said “black is beautiful” that has a handful of white parents upset.
Parents phoned the district late Thursday with complaints that their children had felt uncomfortable during the schoolwide assembly, when students raised their fists in the air and chanted “black is back.”
“It was not a matter of trying to stir up an insurrection,” [Middleton] said. “This was a Black History Month speech. The whole thing was tailored around the occasion. That is a part of black history. Highlighting achievements of black power, that doesn’t negate anybody’s culture. It’s not a bad thing to celebrate being black.”
In his speech, Middleton used the words “black power” in relation to an image that was on the “pick” or comb he used to tame his afro when he was younger. He told students during Thursday’s assembly there was a black fist on it that was a symbol of black power.
“Black people need to know they can be proud of their own heritage. You don’t have to negate your blackness or African-American heritage in order to assimilate to a majority culture. They need to hear that message, because they are marginalized,” Middleton said on Friday. “Race matters in America. We’re told everyone has equal rights and opportunities, but that’s hogwash. Black people have to work extra hard.”
Middleton said he made it a point during his speech to make sure that the white students wouldn’t mistake his message of black pride for anti-white.
“It is a good time to be a black person in America,” he said, in reference to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s bid for president. “This does not negate any other heritage, be it Anglo or Saxon. This does not negate any other heritage, be it Judeo or Christian. This does not negate you if you are from German descent or rather Italian descent or Spanish descent. This does not negate you but then let me tell you, don’t hate on us because we’re glad to be black.”
“I didn’t see anything inappropriate with his speech,” Dozier said [Georgetown County School Superintendent Randy Dozier]. “People may have gotten excited. I think some people were uncomfortable by kids’ reaction to things. I guess I was just kind of surprised we had any issues of this nature. I think it was probably misinterpreted.”