Dave Chappelle vs. Duke Ellington School for the Arts 

Duke Ellington School for the Arts at 3500 R St. NW was supposed to name its theater after comedian Dave Chappelle but delayed the honor until April 2022. The reasoning? Chappelle, who graduated with a degree in Theater Arts from the school in 1991, has been accused of making queerphobic and transphobic comments that resulted in a social media backlash and a joke on a recent episode of Saturday Night Live. Earlier tensions between Chappelle and trans activists based on the comedian’s material were further exacerbated by Chappelle’s recent ostensible provocations in his Netflix special “The Closer.”

To save his reputation with the school community, Chappelle made a surprise campus visit with a documentary film crew in tow to a special school assembly in late November. During the question-and-answer session, a clash with students erupted and several students who attended were quoted by The Washington Post as feeling disrespected by Chappelle.

Both students and parents have said that the attention is now focused too much on Chappelle and the debate about whether or not to name the theater after him. Other issues circulating about campus include students’ fees for art programs and a campus sex assault.  

Chappelle launched a fundraising drive for the school on Nov. 26, saying in an Instagram post: “The Duke Ellington School is a glorious institution. Within those walls I found a context to explore my creativity seriously… Having the theater named after me is a great honor, although that was not my idea, aim or desire. At the request of our beloved school’s founder, Peggy Cooper Cafritz, I accepted. In April I intend to honor that request. 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… If you don’t care enough to donate, please shut the **** up, forever.” 

Chappelle plans to look at donations and if by April more are against than in favor of the theater being named after him, he will step aside. 

Duke Ellington answered Chappelle’s fundraising effort in a statement saying while they appreciate the impromptu and spirited fundraising initiative, “they stand behind their decision to honor the wishes of their co-founder, the late Peggy Cooper Cafritz.” 




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