When the principal of a Rochester, N.Y., charter school reportedly refused to allow the school’s first-ever black valedictorian deliver a graduation speech last month, the city’s mayor stepped in and offered him a unique alternative venue.
Instead of speaking in front of his classmates at the University Preparatory Charter School for Young Men in Rochester, N.Y. -- Jaisaan Lovett stood behind a podium at City Hall, according to local reports.
"To Mr. Munno, my principal, there's a whole lot of things I've wanted to say to you for a long time. ... I'm here as the UPrep 2018 valedictorian to tell you that you couldn't break me. I'm still here, and I'm still here strong,” Lovett said in his speech, according to Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
The high school graduate cited a poor relationship throughout the years with principal Joseph Munno and claimed that was the reason he was denied a chance to speak. He told the paper he clashed with Munno on several occasions, including one instance in which he orchestrated a week-long strike in protest of lab safety equipment.
"There’s a lot of wrong things that go on at that school, and when I notice it I speak out against it," Lovett told the paper. "(Munno) is a guy that doesn’t like to be told 'no.'"
Despite past students having delivered a speech, Lovett said he was never asked to do so, and when he approached Munno about speaking “he just said no."
That’s when the Rochester’s mayor, Lovely Warren, extended an invitation to Lovett -- who works in her office as an intern -- to speak at City Hall.
“Speaking truth to power is fundamental to our democracy,” Warren wrote in a Facebook post along with a link to YouTube video of Lovett’s speech. “Recently, Jaisaan Lovett was silenced and prevented from giving his Valedictorian Speech by his high school, UPrep, here in our City.”
Warren said Lovett nor his parents were given a reason as to why he wasn’t allowed to give a speech, and that Munno has yet to respond to her call, according to the paper.
“He and Jaisaan didn’t have a great relationship and it was his last chance to show him who was boss,” Warren said in another Facebook comment. “He worked hard for this opportunity and his mom and dad were in tears that there was nothing that they could do from the audience. They weren’t going to ruin it for everyone else."
The principal and the school did not respond to the paper’s request for comment.
Despite the apparent animosity between the two, Lovett said he has since forgiven Munno “in order to better myself.”
"And after all these years, all this anger I've had toward you and UPrep as a whole, I realized I had to let that go in order to better myself,” he told the paper. “And I forgive you for everything I held against you."