An assembly at Steelton-Highspire High School on Thursday brought together students for a positive event.
“It was titled ‘Student Painted Palettes’ and the purpose was students could raise money for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank with their art projects,” superintendent Travis Waters said.
There was music, dancing, and poetry.
“They were trying to display healthy eating, and they used several skits to display that healthy eating, and one of them was a watermelon eating contest,” Waters said.
The contest, with four African American students, has many in the community upset, even though students were the ones who innocently chose what food to eat.
“The matter itself and what happened was still very, very racially insensitive,” James Hatcher said. “It caused my nephew to feel so bad that he asked to go to the bathroom.”
Hatcher’s Facebook post about the incident garnered hundreds of comments.
“Something like this, to go on down there, it’s something that would anybody throw their head back and wonder what in the world is this and why, how could you not keep the history of this in mind,” Hatcher said. “It’s a big history.”
Waters says not everyone was offended, but as a district, he said it’s their job to make sure no one feels uncomfortable.
“I do want to educate those people who were not aware of the historical perspective that yes, this is a negative stereotype that dates back to the days shortly after slavery and it has persisted throughout our history,” he said.
Hatcher and many others don’t want an incident like this to repeat itself.
“We have to make sure that we have diverse views on the things that we do because that is our responsibility,” Waters said. “At the end of the day, the buck does stop with the adults of the district.”
Waters said he plans to sit down with all students and staff who attended the event and extend an invitation to parents to talk about what happened and how to gain a better understanding of cultural awareness.