Center Grove investigating photo of student in blackface that went viral following championship game

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GREENWOOD, Ind. – Center Grove school officials are responding after a photo went viral showing what appeared to be a Center Grove student-athlete in blackface following the Center Grove vs. Westfield state championship game.

We’ve blurred out the photo completely, but it shows one student wearing a Center Grove jersey whose face is covered in what appears to be eye black – a black grease typically used under players’ eyes. We do know that photo was posted following Center Grove’s championship win over Westfield Saturday night.

“I was shocked but I wasn’t surprised,” said Indigo Morrow, a junior at Center Grove High School. “It’s not really common but every once in awhile you will encounter racism at Center Grove.”

That is why Morrow decided to start her own student-run group for minorities — Diversity Inclusion Union (DIU). Morrow said the group gives students of color a safe place to share their personal experiences with racism.

“It is disappointing to know that it is 2021, and people are still doing blackface and that there’s people trying to cover it up,” said Morrow. “It may not be something that’s big to you, but like to me and my friends, it’s actually a huge deal. So I would just want [the student] to apologize.”

Officials with the Center Grove Community School Corporation did not respond to our requests for comment on Monday. However, school administrators did issue a statement on Sunday saying they were aware and investigating the circumstances surrounding the picture:

“CGHS administrators are aware of an inappropriate post on social media. They are investigating the situation and are taking steps to address it through the athletic department, coaching staff, and student discipline policy. This student’s actions do not represent the values of our athletic program, high school, or school community.”

“I don’t think that [this photo] represents the culture, but from what I’ve heard – this is not uncommon for Center Grove,” said Marlene Julye, a Greenwood mom looking to enroll her child into Center Grove next year. “I love where I live, I just wish that people would realize that other people exist around them.”

Julye said she saw the photo circulating on social media and felt the urge to speak up after seeing parents defend the student’s action.

“When you see something like that it’s almost like that’s how that person views people of color,” said Julye. “And that’s obviously not how we look – I mean I don’t look like that! And so it kind of makes it seem as if my skin color and my attributes are more of a joke.”

Julye said she would like to see the district take a more proactive approach to denounce this behavior and deter it from happening in the future.

“I’m really hoping that we can learn from this incident and Center Grove uses this opportunity to really grow and say, ‘Okay, maybe we do need to have this conversation.’ Because obviously people aren’t aware of how hurtful it is,” said Julye. “And even if it wasn’t intentional, and [the student] had no idea, and it was completely a joke… [the student] still needs to understand – everybody needs to understand – that this is just not okay.”

Westfield Washington Schools’ officials released the following statement in response to the photo:

On Saturday evening, two great football teams played an amazing game to crown the Indiana Class 6A champion. Our Rocks represented our community at the highest level on the biggest stage and showed what happens when you out-work and out-love. We didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but we are proud of our players and coaches, not only for that game, but for all of the hard work that helped get them to the state championship game.

The Westfield Washington Schools administration wants its community to know that it stands with Popeye Williams, his family, our families of color, and anyone else impacted by the black face photos.

“It is unfortunate that the recent media coverage has nothing to do with the great football that was played on the field,” said Dr. Paul A. Kaiser, superintendent of Westfield Washington Schools. “Instead, the lasting image is of a player in black face, mocking a Westfield community member. We’ve been in constant contact with Popeye, his family and other people who may have been impacted to support in any way they need. We want all Westfield families who may have been impacted by that act of racial bias to know that we stand with you and support you as well.”

Alicia Denniston, principal of Westfield High School, also extended her support and commitment to students’ inclusion.

“We stand in support of Popeye and the Williams family as they process and face this act of racial discrimination,” Denniston said. “While we know that people make mistakes, we hope we can all use this opportunity to learn from our actions. WHS remains committed to standing up against racial discrimination, supporting our students of color, and promoting diversity and inclusion efforts in our school and community.”

Everyone plays a part in bringing an end to racism and we can only accomplish that by working together. Westfield Washington Schools remains committed to making sure all of our students and families feel safe, seen and valued. We cannot let actions like this go unnoticed and we are confident that Center Grove High School will take appropriate action with regards to their investigation.

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