BROWN COUNTY, IN (WXIN/CNN) – A high school track coach was terminated by an Indiana school board on Thursday over a photo of him dressed in blackface as Bob Marley.
The coach, Richard Gist, was given a chance to resign, take sensitivity training and return to the school district, but had refused.
Nearly every community member who spoke at the school board meeting came to the defense of Gist.
They asked the school board to spare his job.
“He’s not a racist. That I can say 100 percent,” said one woman.
“You have a good person here, and an educator, and I think that losing him as an asset is a big mistake,” said a man.
The board, however, voted to terminate him.
“We believe the offensive image Mr. Gist posted, as well the handling of his social media account and the ensuing conversation surrounding the image, showed a distinct lack of discretion and good judgement by a role model,” the board told WXIN in a statement.
Gist was originally dismissed by the Brown County Superintendent Laura Hammack last month after posting a photo of himself on social media wearing blackface. At the time he defended himself.
“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," he told WXIN. “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.”
At the school board meeting, he admitted he made a mistake, but asked the board to spare his job.
“I just ask that you the board give me an opportunity to prove to you that I am an asset of this county,” he said.
The board did offer Gist a deal that would have allowed him to return to the district in the Fall. It would have required him first to resign his position and take cultural sensitivity courses.
He turned down that deal, saying he wasn’t going to resign.
In the end, Hammack said that now it’s the district’s job to move forward.
“we’re really committed to the next step, which is repairing harm through education and coming together as a community,” she said.
The board said they were disappointed that Gist turned down the deal and had no other choice but to terminate him.