**FILE** Comedian Dave Chappelle during a visit to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in 2017 (WI photo)
**FILE** Comedian Dave Chappelle during a visit to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in 2017 (WI photo)

Amid the controversy surrounding Dave Chappelle’s Netflix comedy special “The Closer,” Chappelle continues to engage his detractors, some of whom include students at his alma mater who oppose the naming of a school theater in his honor.

As reports continue to surface about Chappelle’s recent surprise visit to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts (DESA), school officials have set out to counter a narrative that pits Chappelle against the group of students who asked questions during that hourlong event.

“While there has been extensive media coverage about the theatre naming and Chappelle’s most recent visit to the school, the source stories that have gone viral have been inaccurate, devoid of context and neglected to include the nuances of art,” DESA’s Nov. 28 statement said.

“Although it appears that the clear majority of students at Ellington favor naming the theater for Dave Chappelle, we are seizing this moment to demonstrate the importance of carefully listening to every voice within our diverse and inclusive community,” the statement continued.

“Our purpose is not to form a uniformity of viewpoints but to help instill genuine, respectful curiosity in perspectives that challenge one’s own,” it said.

Earlier this year, DESA officials postponed an event commemorating the school theater’s renaming after a contingent of students, in response to Chappelle’s comments about transgender people in “The Closer,” threatened to stage a protest. This development followed a walkout of Netflix employees and ongoing backlash among transgender community members and activists about portions of the comedy special in which Chappelle lampoons transgender outrage about his past commentary.

The controversy surrounding “The Closer” revealed schisms between segments of the Black community along the lines of age and sexual identity. While LBGTQA+  activists highlight instances of anti-trans violence, Chappelle supporters continue to describe what they call the LGBTQA+’s political influence that seems to overshadow that of Black people.

On Sunday night, Chappelle took to Instagram and encouraged his critics to donate to DESA, saying that if more people contribute funds in opposition to the school’s theater renaming than in support, then he’ll step aside.

In his post, he quipped “talk is cheap, unless I do it” and told naysayers to “shut the f— up — forever.”

In their statement, DESA officials remained steadfast in their commitment to name the school theater after Chappelle, as requested by DESA’s late founder Peggy Cooper Cafritz. Neither DESA nor representatives of DESA’s parent group, the Student Home Association of Duke Ellington, responded to The Informer’s inquiry about Chappelle’s visit.

In years’ past, Chappelle, a 1991 DESA graduate, has made several visits to his alma mater and helped raise at least $500,000 annually for arts programming. In 2015, he served as DESA’s commencement speaker. A few years later, while presenting an award at the Emmys, Chappelle went off script and shouted out DC Public Schools, which then became a trending topic on Twitter for several hours.

While she acknowledged the feelings of students who disagreed with Chappelle, DESA alumna Jocelyn McClure said Chappelle has always cared about the Ellington community and the Ellington community at large has cared about every member of the student body.

In speaking about the controversy surrounding “The Closer,” McClure said people must examine the totality of a person and their contributions to society before judging them. She pointed out that despite the backlash the comedy special received, it has compelled even some members of the transgender community to express their support for Chappelle’s artistry.

“If you listen to Dave’s rhetoric and comedy, he’s been thoughtful and poignant in his presentation,” said McClure, a 1978 DESA graduate and first alumni association president.

“It’s just like everything else. Controversy comes about as a juxtaposition of views. That creates healthy dialogue and opens doors for understanding. It doesn’t have to be a catalyst for difficulty, trouble, anger and those types of things,” she said.

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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