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Drummer from ‘Stomp’ with local roots talks race at Brooke

By WARREN SCOTT

The Weirton Daily Times

WELLSBURG, W.Va.  — A sign posted at a Brooke High School football game in September created much unrest, but school officials hope to draw some good from it by opening a conversation about race.

And they invited Elec Simon, a drummer from Smithfield who performed for 10 years in Broadway’s “Stomp,” to be a part of that conversation.

Simon’s talk Monday with students in each of the school’s grades wasn’t a reprimand for the “Trump Perry” sign displayed at the school’s game against Perry Traditional Academy, a largely black Pittsburgh school, that offended some visitors and local residents.

Instead he encouraged students to talk about the incident, race in general and their feelings about it, while gently suggesting they try to consider others’ viewpoints.

“I think what we’ve gone through has been upsetting,” said one student, who added there was no intention to offend anyone with the sign.

Another said while some students are prejudiced, no one involved in creating the sign — done during a patriotism theme week and featuring the U.S. flag with the president’s name — could be described as racist.

Simon praised the students for their honesty.

Following the last gathering, Simon said when he read about the incident, “It hurt my heart because I knew these kids aren’t like that.”

Simon visited the school in March as part of an observance of National Foreign Language Week, coordinated by foreign language teacher Morgan Cipoletti, that included talks by local college students hailing from various countries.

Principal Tim Pannett said he and Cipoletti noted Simon quickly built a rapport with students through his frankness and positive attitude and thought he would be a good choice to speak to them on such a sensitive issue.

Told that a number of students feel all Brooke students have been unfairly categorized as racist, Simon said, “I”m glad they got defensive. If they didn’t, I would be worried.”

But in his talks to the students he also noted racism exists in the world. Just recently he was profiled while shopping at a store, he said.

Simon said while meeting with one grade Monday he asked if any students had used the ‘N” word. A boy slowly stepped forward, admitting he had learned it at home.

“I asked them (students in that grade) if they loved me, and they all said ‘yes,’ so one person can make a difference,” he said.

Simon said he tries to convey to all students they can make a difference, too.

“A lot of kids shouldn’t keep their mouths shut. If they see something wrong, they should say something,” he said.

Simon said his visits to various schools are inspired by a close high school friend who committed suicide.

The teen left a note naming peers who had bullied him and teachers who had done nothing to stop it, he said.

“People say my assemblies are about anti-bullying, but I think they are really about respect and life,” Simon said.

He added their other major theme is believing in one’s self and following one’s dreams.

Often Simon’s assemblies end with a drum session, with students and staff recruited to join him, as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” is played.

(Scott can be contacted at [email protected].)

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