Wednesday, April 21, 2021

August Wilson’s Niece Sends Letter to Charlotte School After Student Booted Over ‘Fences’ Controversy

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August Wilson’s niece, Dr. Kimberly Ellis, talks to WBTV

*The niece of playwright August Wilson is sharing her concerns after a private school in Charlotte ended the contract of a 14-year-old Black student when his mother complained of his class reading Wilson’s Fences for a school assignment.

As previously reported, Faith Fox, the mom of 9th grader Jamel Van Rensalier, told WBTV in December that her son’s enrollment contract at Providence Day School was terminated after she complained about the play’s use of the N-word and lack of diversity in her son’s classroom. Dr. Kimberly Ellis, scholar and niece of August Wilson, says she understands why Fox had concerns.

“In this particular context, where he was one of two black children in the classroom, with that introduction, with that teacher, I can see the N-word being used as a weapon against him, even as it is read in the play Fences. And that is why I oppose the use in this context,” Dr. Ellis said.

In a six-page letter to the school, Dr. Ellis further addressed concerns, citing the need of historical context including teachings of the Negro Baseball League, and an inclusive curriculum on Black history before the play is introduced to teenagers.

“August Wilson, he wasn’t writing for teenagers. I do think that teenagers can relate to many of them, they can relate to literally almost everything in the play, but they have to be properly contextualized,” she told WBTV. “You have to teach layers and layers of history to get Fences. You should not read Fences and then, like, let it loose. And then I think the other aspect is that August Wilson himself went to a school like Providence Day School.”

Read Dr. Ellis’ letter in full below:

Providence Day School says Fox’s actions towards staff members led to the termination. In a statement posted last month, the school said, “terminating an enrollment contract is always the last resort…this parent continued a pattern of verbal harassment.”

Watch Dr. Ellis’ interview with WBTV here.

Watch the original story about the teen’s contract termination below, followed by discussion among the ladies of “The View”:

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