The principal of GW Graham says the student in blackface (left) wore it as part of a mock trial, and the picture found its way into the school’s 2017 yearbook. (Instagram photo)

The principal of GW Graham says the student in blackface (left) wore it as part of a mock trial, and the picture found its way into the school’s 2017 yearbook. (Instagram photo)

Blackface photo in 2017 Chilliwack yearbook sparks apology from school principal

The controversial photo of a GW Graham secondary student surfaced on Instagram

The principal of GW Graham secondary school has issued an apology for a picture that found its way into the 2017 yearbook.

The photo surfaced on Instagram this week, showing a student in blackface.

Responding with a letter posted to the school’s Instagram account (@gwg_grizzlies), Chuck Lawson apologized for the “inappropriate and offensive picture” and said the student wore blackface to portray a role in a trial.

“It was unfortunate the actions were not stopped at the classroom level and discussed as a learning opportunity for those involved,” Lawson wrote. “Our youth are going to make mistakes, and it is the role of the adults to bring concerns forward in a respectful manner. It is important that we discuss our actions and understand the hurt that others may feel from our actions.”

Beyond the incident itself, Lawson said it was “unfortunate” that the picture made it into the yearbook.

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“Our yearbook is a celebration that is a reflection of our school,” he wrote. “I apologize to the students who cherish our yearbooks and fondly look through them for bringing back special memories from high school.”

It was Makena Lejeune, who was a high school student in Chilliwack in 2017, who posted the photo on her Instagram feed and urged others to share it and tag @gwg_grizzlies.

She wrote that staff at the time brushed off the incident.

“The fact that teachers allowed this to happen is unacceptable,” she wrote. “The fact that there were no repercussions for the staff and students that allowed this to happen is unacceptable.”

With race relations top of mind the last few weeks with the death of George Floyd, Lejeune noted that GW Graham posted a black square on social media to show solidarity with black students.

“But that was performative,” she wrote. “You can’t tell me a school that allows blackface in their yearbook actually cares about black students and other minority students.”

In his letter, Lawson expressed gratitude to those who brought it to his attention and pledged that the school will do better.

“We will build on the strengths of GW Graham and ensure that we are an inclusive school that provides exciting opportunities in a caring environment,” he wrote.


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eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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