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August 19, 2019

Racist blackface video roils elite Brooklyn private school

January 19, 2019
An elite Brooklyn private school has been thrown into chaos by a racist blackface video produced and circulated by students, school sources said. (Obtained by News)

An elite Brooklyn private school has been thrown into chaos by a racist blackface video filmed and circulated by students, the Daily News has learned.

World-famous Poly Prep Day School in Dyker Heights was reeling this week over a video of white students in blackface jumping around making monkey noises, school sources said.

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In a part of the footage provided to the Daily News, two white female students can be seen laughing as they jump like primates and mug for the camera with their faces painted black.

The video made the rounds at the posh private school last week, which counts musician Jon Bon Jovi’s son and professional basketball player Joakim Noah as alums.

Parents and students sources said three students make the clip.

One of the students has since transferred out of the school but the other two remain and have faced no disciplinary action, members of the school community said.

The News was unable to reach the students involved.

Parents and students are outraged by the video and the school’s response, which many deemed insufficient, after emails sent to families about the matter failed to mention the racist content.

“It was hurtful,” said Brooklyn senior Jeovanna deShong-Connor, 17.

“It was just one more in string of events that made it so clear that our peers were not welcoming and that the administration did not care,” added deShong-Connor, who is black and is co-president of a students of color group called Umoja.

On Friday a massive number of students participated in a walkout of a school-wide assembly honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. in protest organized by deShong-Connor and Umoja.

Hours later, Poly Prep’s head of school sent a letter home to families in which he vowed to address the situation in an upcoming meeting with students of color.

DeShong-Connor and Umoja published an open letter to the school community and a list of demands for Poly Prep administrators in the school newspaper Friday.

“On January 11, 2019, members of our community were exposed to a video in which white female students were seen making monkey gestures and noises while wearing blackface. It is a racist video and we are offended,” the letter states. “It is a racist video and we are offended. This is not an isolated incident.”

DeShong-Connor and Umoja requested for a public apology from the girls in the video, the hiring of more faculty of color and the creation of civics courses to promote cultural awareness.

Some parents and students said Poly Prep, where tuition exceeds $50,000 per year, is characterized by deep institutional racism.

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Poly Prep was founded in 1854 as an all-white, all-male school. It began to transition to a coed, multi-ethnic school starting in the 1970s but students and parents say racism is still part of the school’s culture.

Among other things, they cited the school’s initial responses to the video and reports that the students involved in its creation haven’t faced disciplinary action.

“If you smoke a Jool at school you can get kicked out but you can create a racist video and not get kicked out,” said the father of a black student at Poly Prep, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid backlash.

“A lot of black parents are saying they wish they never sent their kid there, because of serious institutional racism in college admissions and in discipline,” he added.

Poly Prep Head of School Audrius Barzdukas seemed to acknowledge shortcomings in a letter sent to parents Friday following the walkout.

In the letter, Barzdukas described members of Umoja reading their open letter during the assembly.

“Our Chapel was silent as they described a recently posted ‘video in which white female students were seen making monkey gestures and noises while wearing blackface,’” Barzdukas wrote of the Umoja students’ presentation.

“Some students and faculty shed tears,” he added. “The letter described an atmosphere of racial intolerance and prejudice, and admonished the school’s administration for not doing enough to prevent or respond to this atmosphere.”

Barzdukas promised to meet with students from Umoja on Wednesday to discuss how to address the matter.

“We will not tolerate racism in our school. We will foster a culture where we seek to understand one another and to bridge cultures,” he wrote in the letter, adding: “I promise that we will do everything possible to make positive change going forward, and I invite you all to hold us accountable.”

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