Former NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal is no longer participating in Cary’s Martin Luther King Jr. Dreamfest in January, the town said Wednesday, citing the negative community response that followed the announcement of her inclusion in the weekend’s diversity summit.
Dolezal, 39, had been scheduled to participate in a panel discussion on racial identity and race relations with representatives of the NAACP and professors from area universities. This year’s Dreamfest, from Jan. 14 to 16, has the theme of “Healing Race Relations through Conversation and Participation.”
Dolezal is the former president of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the NAACP and a former African studies instructor. She became the subject of national debate in 2015 when she was accused of lying about her race – portraying herself as black despite being born to and raised by white parents.
Jireh Management Group, who had booked Dolezal as part of Cary’s annual MLK celebration, decided to remove her from the panel at the urging of community members, Doug McRainey, Cary’s director of parks, recreation and cultural resources, said Wednesday.
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“They made the decision about two weeks ago to remove her from the diversity summit, which we support,” McRainey said. “We had two focus group meetings with citizens and pastors, and I think the feeling was that her presence would take away from the goals of the Dreamfest.”
When Dolezal’s involvement in Dreamfest was announced in the fall, it drew attention from national media outlets – and some local criticism. A group of eight Cary clergy wrote a letter to town officials in October expressing their concerns with Dolezal’s inclusion, “considering the overwhelmingly negative response of the African-American community to her behavior.”
Michael Wright, a publicist for Dolezal’s upcoming book, “In Full Color: Finding My Place in Black and White World,” responded to an interview request for Dolezal. Wright, who said he doesn’t handle Dolezal’s speaking engagements, said he had not spoken to Dolezal at length about the event and that he would defer to the town’s explanation.
Al Cohen, CEO of Jireh Management, could not be reached for comment. The company has organized parts of Cary’s Dreamfest since 2015.
Cary has held the three-day celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy for more than 20 years. This year’s Dreamfest will include storytellers, a poetry festival, a screening of “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” and a day of community service.
Saturday’s activities, including the Diversity Summit originally scheduled with Dolezal, are still scheduled for Jan. 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Cohen said in October that Dolezal was selected to “allow a fuller understanding of how she has come to view racial identity and what we might learn from her perspective.”
“We chose a person like Rachel Dolezal that has been depicted as a major villain through media because of her preference of racial identity,” Cohen said. “And yet, she didn’t steal from anybody. She didn’t murder anybody. She didn’t rob anybody. She only had an affinity for a group of people, and she served her community well.”
Dolezal tweeted then: “Looking forward to being in Cary, NC for DreamFEST 2017!”
Cary Councilman Don Frantz offered a different perspective in October, one he said echoed many of the emails he had received from residents about Dolezal’s selection.
“I fail to see how somebody who lives a lie adds value to an honest discussion about real racial issues in this country,” he said in October. “I fail to understand the logic behind that decision if the goal is to have an honest discussion about racism in America.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan
The Town of Cary’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dreamfest Celebration is Saturday, Jan. 14, to Monday, Jan. 16, at various locations. This year’s theme is “Healing Race Relations through Conversation and Participation.” bit.ly/19aRV3i
Saturday, Jan. 14: Tellebration, featuring African-American storytellers Willa Brigham and Donna Washington and author Johnny Ray Moore, is 9 a.m. at the Page-Walker Arts and History Center, 119 Ambassador Loop. Free.
▪ Diversity Summit panel discussion is 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Cary Arts Center, 100 Dry Ave. Free.
▪ Poetry Fest is 7 p.m. at The Cary theater, 122 E. Chatham St. Moderated by poet and cultural historian Darrell Stover. Free tickets at the door beginning at 6 p.m. thecarytheater.com
Sunday, Jan. 15: The movie “And Still I Rise,” a documentary on the life of the late writer, poet, actress and activist Maya Angelou, is 2 p.m. Sunday at The Cary theater, 122 E. Chatham St. Cost: $5. 919-462-2055, thecarytheater.com
Monday, Jan. 16: The Day of Service community workday is 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Middle Creek Community Center, 123 Middle Creek Park Ave., Apex. Free; registration required.