OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A former Oklahoma Christian University recruiter is sharing his side of the story after lining students up by their skin color and hair texture. Students and parents are still outraged, as the university made a personal visit to Harding Charter Prep on Monday to apologize.
“It destroyed my reputation but my character won’t change,” Cedric Sunray said.
The now-fired Oklahoma Christian University recruiter, Cedric Sunray, sat down with News 4 after the exercise he calls an “icebreaker” ignited a firestorm.
“He said ‘ok, everyone now line up from darkest to lightest skin complexion,’” 11th grader Korey Todd said.
“He told us nappiest hair in the back and straighter hair in the front,” 11th grader Rio Brown said.
Sunray is defending his presentation saying he’s done the exact same exercise 87 times just this year.
“I break the groups into four teams and then I say line up darkest to the front and lightest to the back,” Sunray said. “From the largest afro to the tightest braid to the blondest with blue eyes. They all want to know they are valued and warranted. And that is what I provide.”
The educator of 20 years was fired within an hour.
“I am embarrassed and ashamed and I am mad at what happened,” Oklahoma Christian University President John deSteiguer said.
News 4 caught up with 11th grader Korey Todd again on Monday.
“I accept who I am and what I look like,” Korey Todd said. “I don’t need an exercise from a college recruiter personally.”
“It is about breaking down all those walls,” Sunray said.
Sunray tells News 4 he’s already been hired by another metro university, but he won’t say which one, admitting his teaching is unorthodox.
“Will you do this exercise again?” News 4 reporter Peyton Yager asked.
“Oh yes,” Sunray said.
“You are going to keep doing it?” News 4 reporter Peyton Yager asked.
“I have been doing this exercise for years,” Sunray said. “We need to have these conversations.”
Sunray says the one thing he will do differently is a more upfront explanation about the exercise beforehand.
“He shouldn’t be in the school field if that’s his message,” Todd said.
Oklahoma Christian University President John deSteiguer says the university will put in programs like mandatory cultural sensitivity training for employees and screening future presentations.
Sunray says he has reached out to both Oklahoma Christian and Harding Charter Prep to try to explain himself but hasn’t heard back.
Sunray also gave News 4 a full statement:
As a 6’4 225lb. straight male of white racial phenotype, as well as being a former NCAA athlete and university coach, I know well the privilege and prestige that all these elements have provided me in America and never take that lightly. Then there exists the other side of my reality. I am the son of a cocaine dealer who lost his life due to his involvement in the drug game. I am an enrolled tribal member of a tribe where virtually all members are identifiable as People of Color. I was raised in a primarily Hispanic & Black community. The greatest mentors in my life have been Black, Hispanic and American Indian women & men. My closest friends are Black, Hispanic & American Indian. My wife and daughter are identifiable Women of Color (American Indian). I have stood as an advocate and ally against racism directed towards the Black community, including when I have had to stand against others in Indian Country, since my teenage years and have over 30 published works in magazines and major academic press books related to dismantling racism which are easily searchable on the internet. The hundreds of workshops, presentations and trainings I provide to a variety of educational systems are focused on higher education funding and access, racism, colorism, classism, body image issues, food insecurities, perceptions of addiction, mental wellness, basic financial literacy, social media realities, positive classroom management principles and more. As a former teacher at three predominantly Black high schools in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Centennial, Frederick Douglass and Northeast Academy (where I was honored as Teacher of the Year during the 2017-2018 school year), I regularly engaged my students and colleagues on these issues. My teaching is unorthodox, humorous, challenging and most importantly necessary. My Black and non-Black students, their families, my colleagues and others will attest to this and be quick to support my character, intention and more typical results. Nothing I spoke at Harding Charter Preparatory during an initial “ice-breaker” session had any intention of promoting a racist agenda. My presentations are the opposite. They are intended to take a hard look at issues such as this. The most dangerous things in education are those we are unwilling to discuss. And sometimes when those discussions occur, misunderstanding and even anger can be the result. Having done 87 of these exact presentations this year prior to this one, my only regret in reflection is not providing myself enough time to fully explain the purpose as I have been able to at other presentations, as some of the students and staff from what I understand felt like it was not explained thoroughly. Despite this, we must continue these discussions. As educators, we are bound to doing this ethically and morally. Like dangers in education, we must also acknowledge the most dangerous elements in the media are those that require a 30 second sound bite and no context. Unlike educational engagements, which take time and patience, the majority of media doesn’t allow for taking the time and corresponding effort to get to the heart of a situation prior to creating an atmosphere of vilification whether intentional or not. My concern does not live with myself today. My concern is the perception by others of my former employer Oklahoma Christian University, which is an open, inviting and supportive environment for people of many different races, ethnicities and nationalities. This situation should not discredit the institution. My words are my own. My second and greatest concern, however, is the wellness of the students and staff at Harding Charter Preparatory and any push back they will receive from online predators who attempt to discredit them for publicly airing their grievances towards me. I stand by all students in speaking their mind and making their case. If the result is perceived as injurious to me, then I need to be to handle that. One of my most profound mentors taught me early on in my teaching career to replace “safe” with “substantive” and then you can assist people better with their own wellness. I have no regrets in using this approach in my teaching and in my life. I have reached out to the leadership of both schools impacted by the presentation and offered to attend any meetings or forums that are necessary to discuss this situation and answer any and all questions that may be posed towards me.Cedric Sunray’s full statement