High school fund-raiser causes upset Some called event at C. Milton Wright in Bel Air 'slave day'

'No intention to offend'

Parent, local official of NAACP meet with principal on concerns

February 25, 1997|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

A Harford County high school fund-raiser has triggered protests from students, parents and the local NAACP because it was billed by some as a "slave day" in which underclassmen could "buy" the services of senior classmates.

Some students complained that the event last week was insulting to blacks -- especially during Black History Month. Yesterday, the president of the county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Lena Harris, an African-American parent, met with the principal of C. Milton Wright High School to voice their concerns.

"I just feel it's so unfair," said Harris, whose 17-year-old twins Candace and Calvin are seniors at the Bel Air school. "These are young people, and to have an example set like this I think is totally wrong."

But school officials painted the incident as a misunderstanding. They said the Friday event -- officially called "Gofer Day" -- was an attempt to raise funds for a nonalcoholic graduation cruise by allowing students to pay $5 to have seniors do tasks such as carry their books and bring them lunch.

The event was suggested by the Project Graduation Committee, a group of parents organized to raise money for a senior cruise.

"We took great pains so it was not referred to or had any connection with a slave day," said Principal William Eckey, whose school has about 1,445 students, 41 of whom are black. "There was no intention on the part of anyone at the school to offend anyone."

Lena Harris said it upset a classmate of her daughter so much that she was in tears. Candace Harris said she and classmate Chrisha Robinson, 18, complained to Eckey on Friday, asked him to cancel the event and were told it would proceed.

"Basically, he said he was not going to cancel it just because two students were offended," said Candace Harris, who added that a majority of the students boycotted the activity in protest. "I felt extremely discriminated against."

Eckey said he was sympathetic to the girls' concerns but explained to them he could not cancel it because it was under way.

"I'm hoping we can turn this experience around and learn from it," Eckey said. "I plan on speaking to all of the students about it during the next few days."

Robinson said she would like to see the principal deliver a formal apology to all students -- white and black.

"You can call it Gofer Day, May Day or whatever, but it is still a slave day when you are allowed to buy another person," Robinson said. "[Eckey] said that he was sympathetic but he didn't express his sympathy through his actions because he let it go on as planned."

County School Superintendent Jeffery N. Grotsky said he believed the incident was a case of a "good intentioned project gone awry."

"Based on my investigation, I don't feel there was any real issue except that one student used the term slave day," said Grotsky, who visited the school yesterday to speak with the principal and students, but did not attend yesterday's meeting. "I don't think there was anything racially negative motivating it and if some people perceived it that way, we will have to deal with that."

Janice Grant, president of the county branch of the NAACP, said she was pleased that many students chose not to participate.

"I'm so glad to see the white students rejected it by not participating, and that the young people would have the courage to speak up," Grant said. "It's almost unthinkable that this type of thing would go on in this day and age."

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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