LAYTON -- After completing its own inquiry, the NAACP Ogden Chapter has determined a Christmas play performed by first-graders in "soot" covered faces at a Layton school was not racist in nature.
However, chapter officials did make recommendations to school officials about how to prevent the dress in the play from being misinterpreted in the future.
NAACP Ogden Branch President Joseph V. Nicholas and past NAACP president Stanley Ellington conducted the inquiry into the Dec. 5 play performed at the North Davis Preparatory Academy in Layton.
The incident was brought to the attention of NAACP Ogden Chapter officials through media reports.
"We made inquiries into this. We saw no intent (with the incident) to demean, or to insult," Nicholas said of the play.
The play depicted a Spanish tale of elf-like helpers shimmying down the chimney of homes to deliver gifts on Christmas Eve. Students dressed in dark clothes and "soot" covered faces.
Amid complaints of children in the play being in blackface, NAACP Salt Lake Branch President Jeanetta Williams charged the school with racism.
"Regardless of the tale of this play, it is racist to portray such an act using blackface," Williams said in a earlier statement.
The charge of racism devastated the Spanish teachers at North Davis Preparatory Academy, who organized the play to pay tribute to a Spanish holiday custom, according to principal Deborrah Gomberg.
Gomberg said the teachers were unaware of what they had done. "They look at this American conflict from completely different lenses," she said of the nation's race-relations.
But after spending a few hours with Gomberg, Nicholas said, he believes the whole incident may have been taken out of context.
"There was no intention to offend," Nicholas said of "The Christmas Around The World" play. He said the same play has been performed by the school for the past three years and nobody has said anything.
There was a parent who was a little overzealous in applying soot to their child's face, resulting it in being covered, Nicholas said, but they had determined there was no racial motivation behind that.
"We found no deliberate intent to discriminate," said Ellington, who is confident education will go a long way in resolving such issues.
To ensure such incidents do not occur in the future, Nicholas said, they did recommend to Gomberg that next time the play is performed to have each student's face checked, and that team building between parents and staff occur to create that Domino effect and make everyone aware of what the play is about.
It was also recommended that prior to next year's performance, a teacher or school staff member explain to the audience the significance behind the soot-covered faces so no one misinterprets what is being portrayed, Nicholas said.
"That simple explanation there, can eradicate a lot of the negative feelings," he said.
Gomberg referred to the follow-up by the NAACP Ogden Chapter as a "positive" experience. "We had a wonderful discussion," she said.
"There has been some lessons learned," Gomberg said.
"That is what this school is about -- trying to have a broader spectrum of culture," Gomberg said of the school serving students K-9.
The bottom line, in the final analysis, the NAACP found no intent behind the play to offend, Nicholas said. "It wasn't (performed) to degrade anybody, race or creed," he said.
Contact reporter Bryon Saxton at 801-625-4244 or email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at @BryonSaxton.