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File photo/QNS
File photo/QNS

Officials from Christ the King High School in Middle Village sought to clarify their position over a senior sweatshirt that has sparked a national controversy.

The statement, signed by school Board Chairman Serphin R. Maltese and released on Feb. 12, focuses mainly on the order form for the senior sweatshirts, which states “Last or first name only – No nicknames,” for those who choose to personalize them.

One senior, Malcolm Xavier Combs, requested to have ‘Malcolm X’ printed on the sleeve of his sweatshirt and was denied. Combs was offended by how one teacher treated his request, and his parents took the story to the Daily News and the National Action Network (NAN).

“Given the diverse nature of this community, we are especially concerned about language and deportment so that no member of our Christ the King family feels marginalized in any way,” Maltese stated. “The recent articles about one of our students and Malcolm X has, unfortunately, been taken out of context and has been misconstrued.”

According to Maltese’s statement, nicknames on the sweatshirts have occasionally been approved in the past only if it is the most common identity of the student. In Combs’ case, however, the school states that all of his official records – original application, student portfolio, registration and Combs’ diploma from his eighth-grade school – include only his first and last name without his middle name or initial. Therefore, the school did not recognize ‘Malcolm X’ as Combs’ preferred name.

On the other hand, Combs charged that the administrator who told him his request was denied mocked him by calling him “the new Malcolm X,” and the student didn’t feel like he was in the wrong because “that’s my name, Malcolm X., not a nickname,” according to the Daily News.

When the school met with Combs, his family and an official from NAN the day of the article’s publication, a compromise was offered to put the student’s first and middle name on the sweatshirt. Combs denied that compromise, the statement said.

Document courtesy of Christ the King High School

Document courtesy of Christ the King High School

The National Action Network took things a step further when Reverend Al Sharpton invited Combs and his family to the organization’s weekly rally on Feb. 10, to which he also invited Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz. At the rally, Sharpton made it clear the organization will continue to push for change at Christ the King.

“I wanted this young man and his family to know that we are with them,” Sharpton said at the rally. “(NAN) has gone out there and spoken with the heads of the school. It seems that they have a hearing deficiency. Maybe a lot of us need to go out there and turn the volume up.”

The Combs family and NAN called for cultural inclusion training and for the school to hire more diverse staff members. Maltese did not address that in the statement, but explained that the historical figure Malcolm X has been part of the school’s curriculum for many years in the study of the civil rights movement, and the school’s library has books on Malcolm X and “other figures from the African-American experience.”

Maltese concluded that the school hopes the situation can be resolved “on mutually acceptable terms.”

“While we believe that there was a misinterpretation between the parties, we regret the turn of events and the problems that have ensued,” the statement said.

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