VERMONTVILLE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Leaders at the school that made headlines for a racist prom poster have leveraged the incident to raise awareness among the student body about racism and cultural sensitivity with the help of a West Michigan judge.
Two Maple Valley High School students were photographed on the Vermontville-area school campus carrying a sign that read, “If I was black I’d be picking cotton, but I’m white so I’m picking you for prom.”
The photo quickly went viral late last month and became a story in local and national media.
“It was my hope that it was a hoax,” said Michelle Falcon, the superintendent of the district, which covers parts of Eaton and Barry counties. “I don’t think they realized, nor did I, the backlash we would receive nationally.”
“We were under a lot of fire and there were a lot of people hurt by it,” high school senior Emma Franklin told 24 Hour News 8 Thursday.
“I was really hurt,” added junior Grace Guernsey, who is black.
On Thursday, school leaders welcomed Barry County District Court Judge Michael Schippers to motivate students to act when they see instances of racism. Schippers delivers talks about racism alongside some of his family members, including his brother and son, who are black.
“You have to stop it,” Schipper told the students gathered for the assembly. “If you limit your life to people that look like you, man, you’re going to miss out.”
After the assembly concluded, a young man approached the speakers and tearfully told them that he was the student who created the poster. The Schippers embraced the student and prayed with him.
“That speaks volumes to his character. … As I said to him, we all make mistakes,” said the judge’s brother Jim Schipper. “I believe God can redeem this young man as he redeems me every day.”
School officials are hopeful the district will move forward from the incident and the notoriety that came with it, but not the lesson students and staff alike have learned from the ordeal.
“I’ve learned you can never do too much. When you think that you’re doing enough, do a little more,” the superintendent said. “Continuing the message is very important.”