Dave Chappelle urges donations to Duke Ellington school despite naming controversy

After comedian Dave Chappelle’s comments on Netflix about the transgender community caused weeks of backlash, will a theater at his old high school still be named after him?

Chappelle’s alma mater, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest D.C., announced in November it would postpone a ceremony to rename a theater after the comedian due to concerns from students, staff and the school advisory board over remarks in his recent Netflix special many consider demeaning to the LGBTQ+ community.

Among other offending comments, Chappelle said, “Gender is a fact … every human being in this room, every human being on earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on earth. That is a fact.”

On Saturday, Chappelle posted on Instagram that he would accept the will of those donating to the school.

“If you object to my receiving this honor, I urge you to donate to the school, noting your objection. If you are in favor of the theater being named ‘Chappelle,’ I urge you to donate to the school, noting your approval,” he wrote.

Chappelle said, “My only intent is to insure Duke Ellington the opportunity to train its artists unfettered.”


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Just before Thanksgiving, Chappelle met with students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts where an exchange quickly became antagonistic and combative.

According to multiple reports, one student called Chappelle a “bigot” and said: “I’m 16 and I think you’re childish; you handled it like a child.”

Chappelle responded, “My friend, with all due respect, I don’t believe you could make one of the decisions I have to make on a given day.”

At one point, a student reportedly yelled at Chappelle, “Your comedy kills,” to which Chappelle responded that Black citizens “are killed every day,” then asking, “The media’s not here, right?”

Some parents and students walked out of the meeting after his statements, according to Politico. Other heated exchanges between Chappelle and students were reported from that evening.

Chappelle’s publicist, Carla Sims later said, “They are complaining that he talked and said the N-word. If anything, Dave is putting the school on the map.”

In previous years, Chappelle has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the school and brought several high profile celebrities to its fundraisers.

Though some at the meeting said Chappelle’s tone softened toward the end of the night, it is unclear whether he can reclaim the good will of the student body of and supporting the LGBTQ+ community.

It is unclear whether Chappelle’s Instagram challenge to raise funds has any bearing, whatsoever, on whether the school will still name its largest theater after him.

Despite the controversy, most of Chappelle’s challenge on Instagram was filled with love for his former school and its community: “Within those walls I found a context to explore my creativity seriously. Duke Ellington, in large part, prepared me to undertake this noble and difficult profession.”

Nonetheless, it also opened with a line perhaps appropriate to the comedian’s current predicament: “Talk is cheap … unless I do it.”

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Joshua Barlow

Joshua Barlow is a writer, composer, and producer who has worked for CGTN, Atlantic Public Media, and National Public Radio. He lives in Northeast Washington, D.C., where he pays attention to developments in his neighborhood, economic issues, and social justice.

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