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Homewood-Flossmoor High School senior Taiylar Ball admits she used two offensive words in a poem presentation, but argues being denied entry to prom on Saturday was too harsh a punishment for her actions.

She’s waiting to learn if she can attend graduation ceremonies on Sunday.

  H-F High School senior 
  Taiylar Ball stirred controversy 
  with her spoken word 
  performance at the school 
  talent show.
(Photo by 
  Marilyn Thomas/H-F 
  Chronicle)

“The punishment doesn’t fit,” she argued. “I could have tutored, or done detention this week.”

Taiylar was one of two students performing as the 14th act in the senior talent show on May 19. She had auditioned two weeks before, but hadn’t finished the poem she intended to read. She also was at dress rehearsal on May 16 and again repeated her original work.

Taiylar admits when she auditioned and rehearsed her original poem “Dear Black Girls,” about black women’s stereotypes and empowerment of black girls, she did not include the N-word, or the word “tits.”

Taiylar said teacher Melissa Durkin, who was in charge of the program, told her what she’d read was OK.

In a statement, Jodi Bryant, director of H-F public relations, said, “At the May 16 rehearsal, all performers and acts were within the school guidelines and fit in the permitted time frame.

“It was reiterated at the dress rehearsal that all performances must be performed without any additions or changes to content, presentation and/or costume. It is understood by students that deviation during the actual performance may result in consequences.”

She lengthened her original poem the night before and the day of the talent show because she thought it was too short. Taiylar says she didn’t know there was a three-minute time limit. Her poem ran four minutes.

She walked off the stage to loud applause and hugs from friends.

“I got pulled outside of the theater and my principal (Dr. Ryan Pitcock) said ‘Were the words n—– and tits approved?’ I said ‘No.’ He said go home; we’ll talk about graduation and prom. So I said thank you and I took my stuff and I left,” Taiylar recalled.

“They called (my parents) that day and said I wasn’t going to be able to attend prom,” she said. “I was sad. You prepare for prom all your life and so my parents spent a lot of money on my dress, my hair, my shoes and it was the day before.”

She did go to the Field Museum for the prom and took pictures with her friends but was not allowed inside. She has since been interviewed by Chicago television news outlets and quoted in a national magazine which drew attention around the world.

“There were many amazing performances at the talent show, including this student’s powerfully written and delivered spoken word,” Bryant said in her statement. “It is unfortunate that it included additional content that was not previously approved by the audition committee at the dress rehearsal and was not within the school’s guidelines.”

“When I said the N-word it’s part of a poem,” Taiylar argued. “It’s not about you, it’s about the art in general. So I didn’t think that saying the N-word was a bad thing I just own in my art and say in my art.”

For Taiylar, the N-word no longer has a negative connotation, but rather is a term of endearment in the black community.

In her poem, she read:

“I’m sorry, dear black man
Brothers, (N-word)?”

“I used the N-word because I wanted to combat those stereotypes. I don’t want you to use the N-word. I want you to use black men, brothers, that type of thing,” she explained. “You can hear the question in my voice. You know it’s a positive connotation and no way near negative.

“We use it because white people had called us that for years, so we’re taking back that word and making it our own. That’s why it’s OK for members of the black community to say it. But when I said it, I wasn’t saying ‘Hey, call us this word.’ I was saying ‘Do not use this word: Call us black men, call us brothers, that type of thing,’” Taiylar said.

As she prepares for her future career at Florida A&M University, Taiylar will not leave high school with ill feelings.

“I love H-F. I was able to be (feature) editor of the (Voyager) newspaper, I was able to be NHS (National Honor Society) treasurer, I was highly prepared for the ACT, I got a full ride to college. I was able to learn a lot at H-F,” she stressed.

“We love our school. We love that we’re diverse, but they have to do different programs. It’s important that H-F becomes culturally competent,” she added. “They have to learn about different races.”

“Homewood-Flossmoor Community High School prides itself on being a welcoming, diverse community where thoughtful discussion and expression are encouraged,” Bryant said.

 

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