W MI school apologizes for controversial speaker

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

VICKSBURG, Mich. (WOOD) — Vicksburg High School is facing some backlash from students and parents who say a motivational speaker’s presentation made them uncomfortable.

Ryan Bomberger, the co-founder of the Virginia-based Radiance Foundation, spoke at the school Tuesday. Bomberger said he has spoken in front of thousands of students, but it wasn’t until his presentation at Vicksburg High School on Tuesday that he got a negative reaction. 

“The venomous responses on social media, really unfortunately, were a poor reflection on Vicksburg,” he told 24 Hour News 8 over the phone Thursday.

After his presentation, Vicksburg Community Schools posted a message on its Facebook page apologizing that people were offended.

“The agreed content of the presentation was intended to be about finding purpose and inspiration in life, but the presentation given instead ranged into topics that were overtly political and were discomforting to many students and staff,” the post read in part.

Superintendent Charles Glaes says the presentation was supposed to provide kids a message of hope and inspiration.

“The difficulty, I believe, is that we ended up bringing in a speaker where if you go beyond what was heard and look at the website, lots of people are going to be very alarmed,” he said.

On its website, the Radiance Foundation describes itself as an “education, faith-based, life-affirming organization” that works to “creatively affirm that every human life has purpose.” There are plenty of videos and statements on its website and Facebook page that oppose abortion.

“I don’t believe there was any use of keywords that would have been very divisive,” the superintendent said of Bomberger’s speech. “However, I just believe we have to do a better job of making sure that we don’t bring in people who have a very strong political agenda.”

Bomberger says he gave the high school principal a detailed outline of what he was going to say and stuck to that plan.

“It was not political in nature. There was no religion. There was no mention of abortion, no mention of pro-life or pro-choice. Or LGBT. None of that at all. It was an apolitical, very life-affirming message presented,” he said.

Oliver Maxa, a Vicksburg student who identifies as a transgender male, disagreed.

“There were a couple of things he said that were really problematic,” Maxa said. “He started with talking about adoption and how it’s a wonderful thing, and I completely agree with that. The problem is after we figured out who he was on his website and everything that his organization stands with, we found that he is very anti-LGBT.”

Maxa isn’t mad at the school, saying he thinks Bomberger mischaracterized what he was going to say.

“Our school thought he was going to be there for suicide prevention and that every life matters, but it ended up being about adoption and that kind of thing,” he said.

“It’s a shame that a vocal minority can so distort something to make it out to something that it truly was not,” Bomberger said.

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