Michelle Roberts, The Oregonian (Portland), March 13, 2009
A mask similar to one President Barack Obama himself wore in a “Saturday Night Live” skit prompted a Portland school principal to ban a boy from performing while wearing it at his elementary school talent show after deciding the rubber likeness of the 44th president was “inappropriate and potentially offensive.”
Dru Lechert-Kelly, 11, a fifth-grader at Llewellyn Elementary School in Southeast Portland, decided to dress up like his role model and dance to a popular YouTube song that features an Obama look-alike dancing to a parody called “I Can Do Whatever I Like.”
Dru performed the skit in front of teachers and students during a rehearsal for Llewellyn’s annual talent show Thursday. He wore a navy blue suit, white shirt, red tie, black shoes and an Obama mask purchased at a costume shop. The choreographed routine ended with Dru on the floor in the splits.
“He practiced for weeks,” said Scott Lechert, 50, an instructional designer, who along with his partner, Paul Kelly, 55, a physical therapist, adopted Dru from a Romanian orphanage in 1999 at age 1 1/2. Both dads helped Dru design his stage props–a desk with a large presidential seal stuck to the front with duct tape. And both coached their son to “have lots of bop” and “use your shoulders” during his routine.
After Thursday’s performance, the “crowd went wild,” Dru said. But so did some of the adults in the audience.
“I talked to the parents who are coordinating the talent show, and they feel it’s inappropriate and potentially offensive,” Llewellyn Principal Steve Powell said.
When asked what was offensive about Dru’s skit, Powell refused to discuss it.
“I won’t say why it’s inappropriate,” he said. “I’m not saying anything to The Oregonian. Why? Because I don’t want to.”
On Friday, Dru decided not to perform at all–opting instead to attend a roller-skating party.
The reasons, according to Dru: The skit doesn’t make sense without the mask, and he’s a little too shy to do it without the mask.
“If I don’t have the mask,” Dru said Friday, “it’s just some kid up there dancing around.”
“I understand the history of black face and how African Americans were caricatured by it,” Lechert said. “However, we now have a popular biracial president who is admired by white and nonwhite people. At what point will it become OK for an 11-year-old admirer to dress up as the president without fear of offending someone?”
“We are white, but we’re a minority class,” he said. “We have some insight into this process of what is and what isn’t offensive. There was obviously no intent to harm here–or really any possibility of offending anyone.”