A black disc jockey falsely accused of wearing blackface to a school charity dance in Arizona said he first thought it was a joke, but he’s not laughing over the negative publicity.
“Me being a black person, I know the reality of blackface. I’m not going to say I thought it was funny. I don’t want to feel any negative energy,” DJ Kim Koko Hunter of Phoenix told The Epoch Times.
“It’s drawing a lot of attention—and not in a good way. What I don’t want is for the public to ride this wave of negativity,” he said.
Two diversity leaders in Scottsdale mistakenly accused Hunter, 56, of appearing in blackface after a parent complained to the Scottsdale Parent Council, which advocates for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Jill Lassen and Stuart Rhoden have apologized for the error, but not directly to Hunter.
On April 11, Lassen, who is white, sent a letter to the Hopi Elementary PTA to express the committee’s “deep disappointment regarding the DJ who appeared in blackface at Hopi Elementary’s ‘Hopi Night Fever’ fundraiser on April 9.”
Lassen said the PTA cosigned the event, also represented by the Hopi Elementary and the Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD).
“This person was proudly celebrated on social media and it wasn’t until a member of our parent community brought it to the attention of the PTA that the photo was even removed.
“Regardless of whether this individual was a volunteer or hired, the fact remains that they were allowed to remain on campus and [DJ] for the entire event in blackface without any rebuttal by those in charge.”
Lassen is a librarian and a co-chair of the SPC. Stuart Rhoden, a black man, is an instructor at Arizona State University. He is also a Scottsdale district’s Equity and Inclusion Committee member.
Rhoden expressed his dismay and “concern” over the blackface incident on social media.
“Let me be clear, a black man, apparently in blackface is an entirely different discussion than a white person,” Rhoden wrote.
“However, I did not state that the person was white. It was assumed that was my intent, and perhaps it was, but nonetheless, looking on his FB page, it seems at the very least he is in darker make-up if not ‘blackface,’ or I am completely mistaken and it’s the lighting of the patio.”
On Facebook Live, Hunter called the accusations “totally off-base.”
“As you can see, I don’t have blackface and my skin tone looks exactly as it did” in promotional photos. “You can go back and reference that,” Hunter said in the video.
In a letter to SPC members, president Emma Cardella said that “hours later, it was learned that the DJ was not in blackface.” Lassen sent out an “unqualified apology upon learning of the error,” she said.
“I would like to humbly apologize about not doing due diligence regarding the email we sent [April 11]. We were contacted by a concerned Hopi parent with said photo who said that when they inquired with the school, the photo was taken down without explanation,” Lassen wrote in one email.
“This morning we realized we were given incorrect information and have subsequently found out that the picture was not a person in blackface. We do not try to be reactionary but find that we are all hyper-alert during these difficult times and know that time is precious,” Lassen wrote.
“This is a good learning experience for ourselves to wait until we have all of the facts in the future,” she said.
More than a week after hosting “Hopi Night Fever,” Hunter said he’s still trying to “put it all in context.”
“Everything is happening so quickly. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time,” he said.
Hopi Elementary is a part of the SUSD. However, Lassen and Rhoden are not district employees and “do not speak for the district, nor represent it,” said SUSD director of communications and marketing Kristine Harrington.
“Likewise, the Scottsdale Parent Council is an organization that is separate and independent from the district and does not speak for the district,” Harrington told The Epoch Times.
“The event in question benefited one of our schools. That school or our district did not sponsor it. It was sponsored by the school PTA, which is a separate entity organized and run by parent volunteers.”
“Our core values reflect our commitment to inclusion—where everyone is respected, treated with dignity, and has a sense of belonging. The district is committed to its mission of providing a world-class, future-focused education for all students,” Harrington said.
The Hopi Elementary PTA hired Hunter to host the charity dance through Ingram Entertainment in Phoenix.
Owner Ryan Ingram said that both he and Hunter have worked in entertainment together for many years and that it was Hunter who inspired him in his career. Hunter is also a popular motivational speaker and youth mentor, Ingram said.
Ingram said that hyper-vigilance involving matters of race appears to be the root cause of the blackface fiasco at Hopi Elementary.
“To me, it looks like when you’re carrying a hammer everything looks like a nail. It doesn’t make any sense,” Ingram told The Epoch Times.