By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

Moments before 18-year old Dean Holmes stepped into the graduation ceremony for York Catholic High School in Pennsylvania, officials pulled him from the line and told him to remove his mask, printed with the words “Black Lives Matter.”  

“As I was walking in the line headed into graduation, Ms. Seufert, the principal said, ‘Dean take your mask off,’” Holmes explained referring to Katie Seufert, Principal of York Catholic High School. 

Dean Holmes almost didn’t participate in his high school graduation because he wore a “Black Lives Matter” face mask to the ceremony. (Courtesy Photo)

Seufert insisted that the young man could not enter the graduation ceremony wearing the “Black Lives Matter” mask because Seufert told him it was a “political statement ”said Holmes, who reached out directly to the AFRO through his father John Holmes via email to tell his story. 

Just weeks before, Seufert wrote a letter supporting peaceful activism in the wake of George Floyd’s death. “The world needs young men and women who will peacefully work for justice,” Principal Seufert wrote in a letter printed dated June 2, posted on the school’s web site. 

 The York teen said he wore the mask before the ceremony started, while talking with friends and school officials on the lawn before the ceremony. He was not told to remove it or that the mask posed any   problem until he was pulled from the line leading into the ceremony. 

“I got to the ceremony at 6:00 pm. The whole 45 minutes I had the mask on,” Holmes said.  The Vice Principal walked up to me. I had the mask on, and she saw me with it on. No one said anything to me about it then,” Holmes insisted. 

Lori Keith, Communications Director for York Catholic High School told the AFRO that “the school will not be making any statement at this time.”  

York Catholic High Board Chair, Arthur Full posted a statement on the school’s web site conflicting with Holmes’ account of the incident. “The graduate mentioned in the statement by the parent did not seek permission to wear a face mask in addition to the face shield, nor was the face mask worn at all during the 45 minutes prior to the processional portion of the ceremony. It was not until the last minute, right before entering the church, that the face mask with writing was put on.”

John Holmes, Dean’s father said the graduation incident was painful, and one of many overt incidents of discrimination his son has experienced since enrolling at the school. 

“It has been a challenge since my son applied to this school,” Holmes said. “My son came to this school  from private schools in Baltimore with a 3.9 GPA and yet, they wouldn’t let him take honors classes. That was a slap in the face coming in the door,” Holmes said. 

“And yet we made it to graduation day,” he said. “We followed the instructions for graduation to the letter. Everybody was very excited that we were having a live graduation,” the father said after students were forced to migrate to virtual classes in the Covid-19 pandemic in March. “Graduation should have been a day of high celebration…and now this,” the father lamented. 

Father Bruce Wilkinson, Priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta, is one of many Black Catholics across the nation who embrace the sentiment behind the slogan “Black Lives Matter.” Wilkinson said the current moment and outcry to end systemic racism fueled by Floyd’s death, sets the stage for Catholics to engage in a past due dialogue about racism within the faith community. 

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori admitted that the Catholic Church must act to address systemic racism.     

In a June letter to parishioners, Lori wrote, “with regret and humility, we must recognize that as Catholic leaders and as an institution we have, at times, not followed the Gospel to which we profess and have been too slow in correcting our shortcomings,” the letter reads. “For this reason, it is incumbent upon us to place ourselves at the forefront of efforts to remove the inequalities and discrimination that are still present in Maryland and our nation today.”

Ironically, York Catholic High School Principal Seufert’s passionate letter to the students encouraging peaceful activism in the wake of George Floyd’s death, includes a link to a statement made by Pope Francis after the Memorial Day Tragedy. 

“My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”  

“I was pretty upset. This was pretty traumatic. But I feel that now I am definitely prepared to face anything,” said Holmes who is headed to New York University this fall on an academic scholarship.