Written by Danteé Ramos
Shemekia Ellis’s pre-k son Braylen received an end-of-the-year award from his teacher in Batesville, Mississippi, leaving Ellis speechless. — Braylen was given a “Monkey Award…for entertaining others.” When Braylen came home excitedly showing off his award, Ellis was “angry” at the teacher’s choice of an accolade for her son.
“He was excited about the award, but he had no idea what he was holding,” Ellis told Action News 5. “It’s unacceptable for me,” she said.
“We wasn’t happy about it,” Ellis said. “I’m still not happy about it. I’m angry because I don’t understand why my son got the monkey award when had received an award that he completed Pre-K,” she added.
Unhappy with what her son bestowed, Ellis contacted the South Panola school district, but with no response from faculty or staff after six days and several calls, the Batesville mother contacted Action News 5 for further assistance in her quest for answers.
When Ellis finally met with Panola district official and Batesville Elementary School principal Amy Sutton, it was explained to Ellis that Braylens award was for his “energy” and that the teacher wasn’t aware of the synonymy between the history and African Americans being compared to monkeys.
“She stated that the teacher stated that she gave him the award for his energy,” Ellis said. “But the award doesn’t say anything about energy; it says ‘entertainment,” she said. Sutton, who is Black told Ellis previous to the incident that there was a meeting held with teachers prompting them to avoid handing out awards that would raise concerns.
“She stated that she had a meeting with them and instructed them to not pass out any awards that would be offensive or raise a red flag, but they did it anyway,” Ellis said. Ellis says they also told her an animal-themed award ceremony had taken place in Braylen’s class the day he received his “monkey award.”
Sutton apologized to Ellis, claiming that the Braylens incident should have been addressed immediately and award ceremonies such as this one would be stopped.
“These teachers have messed up,” Ellis said. “They were wrong. The superintendent knew they were wrong. The principal knew they were wrong. They need to be held accountable for what they have done,” she added.
It is unclear how many other Batesville students have received offensive awards.