Cary, NC – When the Town of Cary announced its plans for 2017’s Dreamfest, it garnered attention but not all of it positive because of one of the planned speakers. Now, controversial speaker Rachel Dolezal is no longer a part of the event.
Change to Dreamfest
Dreamfest is Cary’s annual celebration of the life and message of Martin Luther King Jr., with this year’s event stretching from Saturday and Sunday, January 14 and 15, 2017. Part of the event is a Diversity Summit on that Saturday at 9 AM and included among the speakers was Rachel Dolezal.
Dolezal, a former president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington and professor of Africana studies, became a controversial figure when information came out suggesting Dolezal had lied about her African-American heritage. As such, her inclusion in Dreamfest put Cary in the headlines of statewide and even national news outlets. At the time, Al Cohen, one of the event’s producers who booked Dolezal through the Jireh Management Group, said he brought her because he wanted to start a dialogue and debate.
“We’re bringing her to speak because we’re staying consistent with the message of King. He talked about forgiveness and fighting misconceptions and judging people on their actions,” Cohen said at the time.
Now, Dolezal has had her invitation rescinded by the organizers, which is a decision supported by the Town of Cary, according to Doug McRainey, Cary’s director of parks, recreation and cultural resources.
“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,” McRainey said.
Also part of the response were eight Cary pastors who all signed onto a letter sent to Cohen, the Cary Town Council including Mayor Harold Weinbrecht and Cultural Arts Manager Lyman Collins.
“We fail to see how her sensationalized presence and story can contribute to the theme of “racial healing through conversation and participation” considering the overwhelmingly negative response of the African-American community to her behavior,” they said. “While Dolezal may have an interesting story to some, her participation does not honor the stories, voices and experiences of the people for whom the Rev. King gave his life.”
The rest of Dreamfest is still on, which includes the Diversity Summit but also a poetry festival on Saturday night, readings by storytellers Willa Brigham and Diana Washington and author Johnny Lee Moore, a screening of a documentary about Maya Angelou on Sunday, all culminating with a Day of Service on Monday, January 16, 2017.
Story by staff reports. Photos courtesy of Kris Carmichael and Ron Cogswell.