ANTIOCH (KPIX 5) – An Antioch school counselor is under scrutiny for organizing an 8th grade promotion ceremony aimed at African-American students.

In pictures, it looked like any other middle school graduation. There were speeches and hundreds of students. But this was an African-American promotion ceremony as advertised on a flyer. The ceremony was open to all, but but organized in support of black students.

“We’re trying to bring that disenfranchised community in through these cultural celebrations,” said Dr. Lamont Francies, a counselor at Black Diamond Middle School and pastor who organized the event.

But Francies used district resources to advertise the event, and someone later sent the flyer to the entire district. That’s when things got really bad.

“It was being called reverse racism,” Francies recalled, “Segregation. It was being called disgusting. It was called denigrating, separating the kids. It was called unconstitutional.”

Some even threatened to disrupt the May 29th ceremony.

The Antioch Unified School District did not sponsor the event, but Francies said they sanctioned it and that the mayor and superintendent even attended last year. Francies said this year, neither came amid the controversy.

So Francies came to Wednesday night’s board meeting to ask for support.

“We want the district to really support us publicly and not back away,” he said.

One of the students who went to the ceremony also spoke. “I appreciated being celebrated along with some of my peers as we joined together to congratulate one other on our achievement,” she said.

Superintendent Dr. Donald Gill addressed the controversy head-on, saying there were procedural errors in putting out the flyer. Gill added, “I would hope that this would not cloud or taint what was truly a well-intentioned, positive event for our students.”

“We do see the value in holding such cultural celebrations as they are a chance for students to be recognized and honored,” the superintendent said.

Francies is hopeful that the district will offer financial support for the next ceremony, but he said the event will go on regardless.

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