A.C. Holy Spirit

In this screen shot from a video of the game, Holy Spirit students can be seen dressed in a banana and monkey suit during a game against Atlantic City.

Holy Spirit High School student Giannay Givens addressed fellow students during a school assembly Monday morning to help them understand how a skit performed during a basketball game became racially offensive.

Givens, 17, is African American. In her talk, she told the predominantly white student body to imagine if the shoe was on the other foot. Perspective means everything, she said.

The school is working to deal with the fallout after the news broke Friday that two Holy Spirit students dressed in a monkey and banana costume and taunted Atlantic City players during a Feb 18. game. Other students dressed up in a variety of other costumes that evening. In addition to holding the assembly Monday, school officials also issued an apology for the incident.

“Holy Spirit offers our heartfelt apologies for offending anyone that evening,” the Rev. Perry Cherubini, school president, said in a statement.

“The decades long history, rivalry and friendship between ACHS and HSHS is a treasured one. To the students, families and fans of the ACHS Vikings, our apologies for behavior that may have suggested otherwise,” Cherubini said.

In an interview with The Press, Givens said she is confident she got her point across at Monday’s assembly.

“When I spoke this morning, I used our basketball player Matt Summers as an example,” said Givens, of Atlantic City. “I said, ‘Imagine if Atlantic City students threw saltine crackers on the court — how would our players, fans, faculty and parents feel?’ They would take offense because he (Summers) is white and the minority of our starting five.”

Givens said it cannot be forgotten it was not the students’ intention to offend anyone when they donned the costumes

“I was in the stands, too, that night, and I am African American. I know it was never the intention to hurt anyone’s feelings, and the majority of the people in the stands are my friends. What they did came across in a negative light,” she said.

Moving forward from the incident, Givens said, it’s now all about how the school faculty and students grow from the situation.

Given said she has attended other schools where she was racially taunted — but that has never happened at Holy Spirit. Givens said if someone felt offended by a racial incident at school, she is confident Holy Spirit would address it.

“I do love Holy Spirit. It’s just if some students could open their eyes and see how it doesn’t matter if one person is offended or if thousands of people are offended — it just takes one person, if they feel disrespected or harassed, then an apology should be made,” she said.

Principal Susan Dennen said classmates applauded after Givens spoke.

“I handed her the microphone and I told her, you have a voice that I don’t have. It’s not my experience. She speaks with a voice I cannot speak with and she did it eloquently,” Dennen said.

The theme for students during Monday morning’s assembly was: If you know better, you do better, she said.

In his statement Monday, Cherubini said as soon as Holy Spirit athletic director Jay Connell was made aware that individuals with the Atlantic City High School community were offended, Connell personally called and apologized to the school’s administration. On Feb. 21, the apology was accepted.

The statement from Cherubini continued: Holy Spirit High School does not tolerate any type of offensive or discriminatory behavior. “As a culturally, racially and spiritually diverse school community, Holy Spirit values, respects and honors all life. Appropriate corrective action will be taken, a meeting with the student body will be held to discuss this experience and to reinforce the importance, value and responsibility we all have in treating each other with dignity and sensitivity.”

Atlantic County Freeholder Ernest Coursey, an African American, said the school’s apology is not enough.

“What are we supposed to do? Just roll over and say it’s enough because they apologized now because there is so much pressure from the media they are finally addressing the incident that occurred almost two weeks ago?” said Coursey.

Coursey said he is concerned by the lack of action of Holy Spirit officials in connection to the incident. He said the school’s efforts to “warn” students not to participate in further offensive conduct is unacceptable.

“The students must understand why it is wrong. They must learn to respect, appreciate and admire various cultures and ethnic groups. We will be a better community when this happens,” he said.

On Friday, Connell said students who participated in the incident would not be punished.

Dennen said the incident must be used as a learning experience, and it is the school’s job to call students to accountability, educate them as to why it is wrong and inappropriate, and why someone has a right to be offended

She said school officials will meet with the two students who wore the banana and monkey costumes and will also speak to their parents

The school plans to work with students during religion history, crimes against humanity and social justice courses to help them understand the ramifications of this type of behavior, she said.

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