Students, parents object to speaker at Prospect High
Prospect High School billed motivational speaker and activist Calvin Terrell's appearance at an all-school assembly Tuesday as an event spreading a message of empathy, kindness and cultural and social awareness.
But some Prospect parents and students, decrying Terrell's social media posts as divisive, "extreme" and inappropriate for the school's audience, opted out of the assembly.
Terrell is the founder and director of the Social Centric Institute, a nonprofit devoted to developing "healers of historical trauma around racial intersections, class, religion, gender and environmental disruption." He said on his website that he is not a Democrat or a Republican and describes himself as a "soul experiencing black membership of the human race."
Northwest Suburban High School District 214 spokesperson Stephanie Kim said 62 out of 2,200 students were absent from the assembly.
"Out of that number, it is hard to determine the reason for each one," she said.
Parent Tom Schlenhardt, whose daughter did not attend, said he found out about the assembly through the school's newsletter.
"I knew nothing about the individual, so I did a little quick research online and saw his Twitter and Facebook accounts. I just thought that he was coming from an extreme side of things based on his posts, mainly from the left, and that he was not someone who was very well balanced from a political persuasion," Schlenhardt said.
One Facebook post regarding the assembly included screenshots of Terrell's posts, including one accompanied by a cartoon that defined fascism as "an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization" and depicted a bearded man wearing a red cap bearing the letters GOP, carrying a high-powered rifle and standing in front of a garbage can with a sign saying, "ELIMINATE ELECTION FRAUD CAST ALL BALLOTS HERE."
Kim said that during the assembly, which began at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, there were no protests or walkouts.
"The title of this presentation was called, 'We have to be better than history.'" Kim said, "He encouraged kids to be kind, to stop the meanness, to right past transgressions, and to live life to the fullest."
She said that school Principal Greg Minter, who had heard Terrell speak at another local high school, characterized the presentation as positive, captivating and inclusive. She said it was greeted with laughs, tears and reflection.
She said the purpose of the presentation was to create a sense of belonging for the students.
Schlenhardt, however, said the school was dishonest in portraying Terrell as inclusive when his posts indicate otherwise.
"There was one post that he had that was essentially calling the GOP fascists, which I take offense to since that is my political party affiliation," Schlenhardt said. "I don't think that is a very inclusive message."