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Villaraigosa shocked at celebration of O.J. Simpson, RuPaul, Dennis Rodman at L.A. Black History Month event [Updated]

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa expressed shock over allegations that three teachers at a South Los Angeles elementary school encouraged students to celebrate O.J. Simpson, Dennis Rodman and RuPaul during Black History Month.

The teachers have been suspended as the L.A. Unified School district investigates. According to officials, children at Wadsworth Avenue Elementary School were carrying pictures of the men at a parade Friday on the school playground.

"I am shocked and outraged by the actions of these teachers at Wadsworth Elementary School," Villaraigosa said in a statement. "These teachers undermined the school's well-intentioned celebration, and they did so at the expense of elementary school students. Their actions were not only cynical, but did a terrible disservice to the students, their families and all of the teachers who work hard on a daily basis to build trust and a productive learning environment."

Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry said Supt. Ramon C. Cortines learned about the incident Tuesday and had the teachers, who are white, pulled from their classrooms for the duration of an investigation. The suspension is without pay for the first three days.

"The superintendent believes there are better choices," Pollard-Terry said.

Other students were carrying pictures of President Obama and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The teachers have not been identified and could not be reached for comment.

District officials did not provide specific details about what the teachers did, saying the investigation was still ongoing.

Some community leaders aren't satisfied with the suspensions and are calling for the dismissal of the instructors, who teach first, second and fourth graders.

"I just can't fathom what these teachers were thinking of except to make a mockery of African American history," said Leon Jenkins, president of the Los Angeles branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

L.C. "Chris" Strudwick-Turner of the Los Angeles Urban League likened the episode to a series of racially provocative incidents at UC San Diego, where a Feb. 15 off-campus party mocked Black History Month.

"These kinds of things build on each other," she said. "When something like that happens in [San Diego] and there is no immediate consequence, that emboldens others. That's why I was glad that LAUSD took them out of the classroom right away."

[Updated at 1:38 p.m.: Pollard-Terry said Simpson appeared on the approved list of Black History Month figures, which dates back to 1985. But the names of Rodman and RuPaul, among others, were added in pencil when teachers were selecting which prominent African Americans their classes would honor in the parade. The school principal did not see the list, which Cortines called a lack of oversight, said Pollard-Terry.]

She said the three teachers were believed to have suggested at least some of those names for the list.

The district dispatched a human relations and ethnic diversity team Wednesday to help the school prepare lessons that are "more appropriate for Black History Month," she added.

Strudwick-Turner said the Los Angeles Urban League has been told by people who attended the parade Friday that the teachers had been asked to instruct their classes on a notable African American and that they had selected Simpson, Rodman and RuPaul.

The mayor said in his statement that he hopes the situation will be resolved. "I urge the Los Angeles United School District to take swift and appropriate action with respect to the teachers involved. We cannot stand for such myopic behavior by those whom we entrust to teach and inspire the next generation," he said.

-- Alexandra Zavis

Photos: (left to right) O.J. Simpson, Dennis Rodman, RuPaul. Credit: KTLA News

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Comments () | Archives (67)

@JamieFoxer- You are 100% correct, in my opinion. This certainly was an attempt to smear the whole idea of Black History Month. Everyone should have known that incidents like this would start occurring as part of the backlash against the election of the first African-American President of the United States. All of a sudden, many Americans of European descent are starting to feel like there is no need for set-aside days or focused outreach programs anymore. After all, if a black man can be elected to the presidency, then our racial issues must have all been resolved, right? Right? (Crickets...crickets) Right?

If those three teachers had truly wanted to celebrate the rich legacy of African-American accomplishment in the fields of sports and entertainment, they would have had to pass up literally hundreds of more deserving personalities before they arrived at those three. While RuPaul may be the least morally culpable of these three men, he is also the least talented. What, did one of the other teachers already pick Nipsey Russell? Again, there were far better choices. This was no accident, this was no coincidence.

Those three teachers obviously conspired to stage this demonstration. I would love to hear what points they were trying to prove- and I mean in their own words, not those of blog posters who will try to speak for them. They will have their day to defend themselves soon enough. I, for one, will be all ears.

@TheBigPicture- "however, if you mock a made up month, everyone wants blood...". Really? A "made up month"? First of all, that phrase could apply to most every holiday- especially Mother's Day and Father's Day, which were created by the greeting card industry for obvious reasons. Second of all, I am not sure how old you are, but Black History Month was created to give a much overlooked group their time in the sun. Until the creation of Black History Month, American textbooks were largely silent on the issue of African-American contribution to this nation's great history. This was merely a way to correct that egregious oversight. I would like to see the day when the contributions of all Americans are presented at the same time, in the same books. I am not sure that this day has arrived yet.

Anyway, The Powers That Be probably figure that as long as there is Black History Month (which just so happens to fall on the shortest month- go figure), then nobody will be making too much noise about reparations for slavery. Nothing like bread and circuses to soothe the masses...

Shut up Jorge Gaitan , JeffK & Joe White your pro gay rhedoric is tired, Rupaul is not a good example for young black males or anyone else, a man with gender identity crisis is no one to admire,he has mental problems its obvious.And please don't respond with your typical buzz phrases like I'm "spewing hate" its a gross overuse of that word, enough is enough,look in the mirror and see how anti family and heterophobic people you are. Kudos to Villariagosa.

RuPaul? guy ran for Pres?

Wow, I sure am glad that LAUSD has so many teachers that they can afford to suspend any of them whenever someone disagrees with their opinions. I'm also glad that these black advocacy groups have so remedied the problems of racism that they have time to dictate which African Americans can be respected. Finally, I'm glad for Mayor Tony that he has the kind of political support that he can afford to do such shameful pandering, alienating voters like me who can see this makes absolutely no sense and comes from either a man of dishonest character or poor judgment.

Sarcasm aside, the only racism being built upon seems to be that of advocacy groups and politicians trying to make a headline and a quick buck.

Boy oh Boy, does the LA Times need to sell newspapers or what?

The real story isn't that the teachers chose simpson, rupaul (going after him is just classic African-American homophobia, IMO) and rodman, but that the African-American community hasn't produced any viable national leaders since Jackson & Al Sharpton. Obama alone can't make up for that deficit.

The Pint Size Mayor would not be shocked if these people gave him money, and he would take it like all the rest of the money he has taken. It is BHM, and it is it has good and bad people just the white people have. Thomas Jefferson had slaves, and fathered children by a slave. George Washington had slaves, and fathered children with slaves.

Black History Month has had it's day. We have a President who reflects the end of this overblown celebration.

This is my response to the news segment that was dedicated to the either firing or suspension of three teachers in the southland do to ignorance, but taken as a racist mocking.
Personally to my ethnic race, to me that is something that is not important in this day and age, and as almost all legal documents it is now not a member of the listing either. For me there are many things that can be said about the situation that has occurred and me I am by far a religious man nor am I one of extreme educational importance and I’m most definitely not speaking for those in the very high wealth, so I am not speaking for the educated or the non-educated, the rich or the poor, the believers or the non-believers, I am simply speaking for me and those like me. We are not to be separated and sorted as if we were laundry, this is not the America I grew up in and believe me I grew up in the south, and this certainly isn’t the America I live in.
I personally do not know of anyone that does not have a day to day ethnic encounter, every person I know and have ever spoke to about this has told me the same thing. We all encounter people around us who appear to look different than we are, hell in this day and age even in one’s own home we cannot say that anymore, as is the case for many American families. This country is going downhill and fast at this rate, and there are people who can change things and make a difference, and that is us. The people you see and talk to every day, it’s each and every person that reads this or that tosses this to the trash. It doesn’t matter what people are, where their ancestors came from, or even to which if any god they pray too, the only thing that matters is that these people are just that people, and these that we are persecuting these people, as of know I’m not even positive as to what “ethnic race” these teacher’s are from but I stand by them as Americans and as people of the only race that matters, the human race.
Yes I admit that the choices that they made are stupid one, but they are ones that were made by Americans, not as African-Americans or Latino-Americans, or even Non-Latino-Americans. These were choices made by Americans that we have said are good enough to teach our children when we are not willing, yes these people need to be out of work and making our lives more difficult when we can no longer send our children to school.
This should not be an issue of race; this if anything should be an issue of inappropriate people chosen to represent anyone at all. This is plainly how it is and should be, first there shouldn’t be a Black History Month, mainly because Black is no longer a correct term to use in polite conversation. Well people will say “But its Black History month, you can’t get rid of that it’s racist.” Frankly I believe it is racist to continue to use the term at all, but it still is. The people of this country and of the world should not see a month as “Black History Month”, what kind of signal does that send to our coming generations? People are no longer black, white, brown and yellow or even albino for that matter, we simply are people and when everyone figures this out the better this world will be. No I don’t want my child bringing home some trumped up white one from a good family, or a black one for that matter either, I want someone who will be a good person to my child and who will be a good person all around. Man, woman, boy or girl, it doesn’t matter what color a person is or even what they look like, cause inside we all know and have known and that is as long as they are a good person we will accept them, this is all that matters.
It’s not that these people are wrong to be chosen for a historical event but that these teachers should have had the sense to make better judgment than they did. Was it still in their legal First Amendment rights, your damn right it was, and that’s what makes this country great. People should be able to live in a country that lets them have the right to be stupid, and should do so without having such horrible consequences to come from behind them, at least not anything to cause a burden on them, and that is simply because they caused burden to no one.
Is it thought that white are proud of every time they hear the name Kennedy, that they want to be reminded of the dumb white boy who killed the greatest president of the modern era? No but it’s a fact that must be faced, as well as, does anyone ever mention at random a serial killer that isn’t white. This is my point it’s dumb as to what the teachers did, I mean come on who picks people all of whom run their lives in the not so glamorous part of their celebrity. But it is still not something that these people should be financially punished over, at the most send them back to school for a common sense course, but don’t take the food off of their table.
I guess this is pretty much where it ends for me; however this is something that should be thought about. Are we trying to continue the path of segregation that we’ve tried so hard to get away from and all because a couple of people didn’t think before they acted. We are not of different races, yes we all have different ethnic backgrounds but it is not a race. We are the race, the people who inhabit this planet, that’s the only thing different about any of us, and that is we are Americans or we’re not, plain and simple. So furthermore deal with it American, don’t take out your personal issues on other innocent Americans, there are other people we have for that anger. Thank you for your time.

The teachers involved here are white. What would happen if black teachers had kids hold up pictures of OJ, RuPaul, and Rodman? Would there be all this outrage? Clearly a poor choice on the teachers' parts, but hardly an offense for which they should be fired.

When will there be a Swedish,Finnish, German, British,French, Scottish, Irish... History Month? Sure, its great that kids can learn about famous people like themselves, but not everyone is black or hispanic.Celebrating diversity is divisive. Unless the schools can aknowledge all groups, then these special months should be done away with.

Still all of you are missing the point.

Don't you think these 3 teachers were trying to make a point about "black history month" itself? Perhaps it was in bad taste, and perhaps a better forum than an elementary school class could have been chosen. But the school systems essentially mandate the celebration of this "month", so this was no doubt a reaction to that.

I will assume their point was something along the lines of "how come there is no mexican history month? or no irish-american history month? or native american history month" etc., etc.

I get it - Martin Luther King, Jr Day is in February. Fine. Celebrate him all month long. Absolutely. Do we need to vault the rest of black american history for a whole month? I see no reason for that. No more than I see a reason for italian-american history month or chicano history month.

And I don't want to hear any of this "well every month is white history month" garbage. Nice try, but no.

In my eyes, the teachers' choice of Rodman, OJ, and RuPaul were no doubt made to mock the celebration of black history month. They clearly thought that having a mandate to celebrate that is either absurd or unnecessary, so they chose some african-americans they thought fit into that mold of unnecessary and absurd celebration.

Or maybe I'm giving them too much credit. I wasn't in the room. But if the above was what was really happening... then I can support that. If they lose their jobs over it, so be it. They spoke out. Free country. Deal with it.

Sounds like more of a "Black History Afternoon".

What dunce chose these chuckleheads to represent black culture?

Can't wait for Italian History Month- Tony Soprano, Mussolini, and Joe Dulce (of "Shuddap" You Face musical talent).

Please UNEMPLOY these "educators".

I don't think RuPaul deserves to be put in the same category as O.J and Rodman, both of whom have been convicted on criminal charges. O.J. may very well be a double-murderer and Rodman is presently in a rehab TV show.

Far as I know, RuPaul has only been a pioneer for the gay, lesbian, bi- and tran- community. A case can be made he belongs in a discussion of (positive) black history. California has already showed its true heart with prop-8. Thoughtlessly lumping RuPaul in with these other two just seems more of the same.

Theres some tranny chasers up in here! Lol. The pics those pictures gave were an obvious mockery. And though I don't think there's nothing wrong with rupaul, Its a bit of a stretch to use over the top choices over other prominent Black role-models. Such with dennis rodman. And OJ? Cmon now.


"The district dispatched a human relations and ethnic diversity team Wednesday to help the school prepare lessons that are 'more appropriate for Black History Month,' she added."

This is off on a tangent somewhat, but....I wonder how many teacher's positions (and cops and firefighters) could be saved if we eliminated the freakin' HUMAN RELATIONS AND ETHNIC DIVERSITY TEAMS??!!

Why do you never hear about THESE positions getting cut (preferably in their entirety) when the government periodically fails to relieve us of our money fast enough to keep up with the rate at which they spend it?

Something to think about tomorrow when all of these government apparatchiks are out protesting teacher cutbacks!

Maybe I'll make a big deal and cry "racism" when pictures of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata are displayed during Mexican History Month.....wait a minute!!! we don't have a Mexican History Month, I should start crying "racism" right now. Won't all you Italians, Greek, Spaniards, Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Hondurans, Guatemalans and every nationality that is present in this Country join me. Yes, I'm being silly, but PLEASE enough of trying to make everything a black racist issue. As I recall history is full of good and bad people

Really! If California can edify people like Harvey Milk with a holiday for school children to honor and admire, then what's the big deal? In today's world good is evil and evil is good. Up is down and down is up. We are reengineering our civilization. It's just so, how shall we say, chic--so like Hollywood's Tropic Thunder!

Re: "Save Our Children"

Yes, PLEASE save our children! Because what you said was incredibly ignorant and thoughtless; it is important for youth, particularly in the black community, to learn acceptance of different types of people- black people as a community need to embrace ALL of our brothers and sisters and admire our differences, not drag each other down.

RuPaul has been nothing but a positive role model, particularly for the extremely disenfranchised and ostracized gay and transgendered black community. She is actually the only figure on that level and it is great of the teacher to select her amongst black history figures- she certainly has made history and proven herself to be a very positive, thoughtful, and influential person. Her message is that about love and acceptance, and embracing individuality and that we are all human and we all are spiritual beings and not just what race, gender, sexuality, etc. we are.

You should be ashamed of yourself for your bigoted comments.

I am very glad to see that the majority of comments have been positive at least.

Why are people making such a big deal about this?
Rodman was good basketball player.
OJ was a great football player.
What is the problem? You can't choice who is black and who isn't. I would be more shocked if Farakan's picture was there.

We would not have a BHM if we had given African Americans the credit, they were due in history. All of you that said do it away with it are the same ones that would put my African American friends back into slavery if you could.

I think these teachers were afraid of being branded racist by these kids if they didn't condone the students' admiration for OJ, Rodman, and RuPaul. The irony is, they're being branded as such for saying these people are acceptable role models. Just goes to show how much a person of color can get away with these days for pulling the "race card," as long as you're not white.

The soft bigotry of low expectations...

What's the difference between this, and all the Michael Jackson love in the past year? While not established 100%, it's a pretty safe bet Jackson had a thing for little boys and acted upon it, and now he's once again a prominent figure at Disneyland. I'll bet if he'd been chosen (maybe he was....) there wouldn't be this outrage.

As for "role models", we need to stop teaching our kids to look up to sports stars and athletes and behave in a manner so that they are looking to their PARENTS as their role models.

How can you make the case that Rodman isn't already a black role model when you see kids all the time wearing a Rodman jersey? Apparently, the parents have no problem with Rodman, what's the problem here?

Hey, there's always Tiger Woods, John Allen Muhamed (DC Sniper) and Chris Brown!

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