Teacher who wore blackface for Bob Marley Halloween costume may get fired

A high school teacher and coach may lose his job for wearing blackface after a photo surfaced of him in a Bob Marley Halloween costume more than a decade ago.

By his own admission, Richard Gist, an assistant football and track coach at Brown County High School in Nashville, Ind., once dressed as Marley for a costume party and painted his face black. On Friday, after school district superintendent Laura Hammack saw the image — which Gist had posted on Facebook — she put him on unpaid leave and recommended his termination to the school board. 

“It was a sincere disconnect, and I’m so sorry that Brown County has been aligned with a post that was of this nature, and I just want the community to know that Brown County is a very, very special place and that one post does not speak to who we are as a community,” Hammack told Indianapolis news station Fox 59

In two press releases emailed to Yahoo Lifestyle, Hammack said Gist also wrote incendiary comments on social media. “Our community has been subjected to a firestorm of controversy for the past week. Controversy initiated by a social media post and an ensuing discussion thread that was exacerbated by a variety of factors. Misinformation, misunderstanding, lack of discretion, and opportunistic individuals eager to ramp up the conflict — all converged to create a division in our community.”

She wrote, “It is particularly concerning when troubling images and interactions that indicate a lack of discretion and good judgment by those we expect to be role models for our students are brought to our attention. The blackface image was certainly troubling, but what compounded our concern was the tone of his engagement within the social media thread. It was not representative of what we want modeled by our own employees. Thus, we are moving forward consistent with our beliefs.”

Gist told Fox 59, “In approximately 2008 or 2007, or thereabouts, on Halloween I dressed up as Bob Marley, a character that I admire who spreads love, peace, and hope, and I dressed up as this person out of respect for him and what he believes and not in the intent of offending anybody or insinuating that another race is superior to any other.”  

Gist started working in the Brown County School District in February 2018 as a coach at the high school. He has worked as a substitute within the district. He is employed through staffing agency Kelly Services, which did not return Yahoo Lifestyle’s call for comment.

Richard Gist’s employment in an Indiana school district is under review because of a Facebook photo of him wearing blackface on Halloween more than a decade ago. (Photo: LinkedIn)
Richard Gist’s employment in an Indiana school district is under review because of a Facebook photo of him wearing blackface on Halloween more than a decade ago. (Photo: LinkedIn)

A spokesperson for Kelly Services told Fox 59, “As a company that conducts business based on the highest standards of professionalism, including the appropriate respect for the privacy of our employees and customers, and in accordance with employment regulations, we do not publicly discuss matters specific to an individual. However, I can tell you that all KES substitute teachers undergo rigorous screening and background checks, and complete thorough orientation and training prior to being placed in front of students. In addition, state and district employment requirements are also followed.”

Gist refused an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle and called attention to a Facebook statement he released. “I’ve done a lot of reflecting, processing and trying to understand things,” his Tuesday post read. “First and for most I want to let everyone who knows me and those who do not know me how truly sorry I am that my quick reaction to a situation has caused so much pain and has hurt so many. To understand the situation is to understand me.”

“We are shaped by our environment, our experiences, and our education,” Gist wrote. “I moved to Bloomington Indiana to further my experiences, and I embraced and loved the diverse city I was now a part of. People keep saying that ‘I should have just known.’ But I didn’t. No one taught me about this. But my experiences showed me that when I made this decision to use makeup for Halloween over a decade ago, my African-American friends not only excepted it, laughed about it, but were arm in arm with me about this. Fast forward to 2019, when someone I didn’t know was offended, I needed more information. I was truly trying to understand the difference of reactions to this.”

Gist said he was “truly insensitive” in his defense mechanisms and will take a cultural-awareness class. “My fate in this county lies with the school board,” he wrote. “It’s not in my hands any longer. I pray that if they want a culture of learning that they use my experience to teach the students. Humbly, I asked to remain a part of that opportunity.”

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