Comedian Josh Pray Responds With Statement and ‘Dear Montclair School System’ Video

Comedian Josh Pray, who created a video that was shown by a Renaissance Middle School principal at a Montclair Schools convocation Wednesday and later deemed offensive by Montclair Schools Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ponds and other staff members, has released a response video entitled “Dear Montclair Schools.”

Superintendent Ponds gave a statement Wednesday evening at a virtual Montclair Board of Education meeting, describing a video.

“During today’s welcome back convocation to staff, a completely inappropriate and unacceptable video was broadcast (that) was inconsistent with our schools’ strong values and ideals regarding diversity,” Ponds said.

Neither Ponds nor any other staff have publicly confirmed the video source, but following the statement made by the Superintendent, videos by Pray about remote schooling have been circulating on social media as being the video shown at the convocation.

Pray, in his response video, talks about his loud, comedic style and said he was surprised that “according to some people, I’m an angry Black man.”

Pray also released this statement:

In response to the recent events in the Montclair Public School System that have been tied to my video:

We (my team, fans, and supporters) have been blindsided by the recent news that my video was shown and a principal was removed from his position due to its ‘offensive’ nature. There have been some faults during these events, but we do not believe showing my video was one of them.

I promised a statement on this issue when my supporters messaged, in shock, that my name was mentioned in such a way. We intentionally waited to find out more details and hopefully gain clarity after speaking to both sides.

Although I have spoken with the principal and his legal team, no one from the Montclair Public School System has reached out to me to inquire about the intent of the specific video or my mission with my works in general. This is despite having access to my team and manager’s email and cellphone number on all of my public platforms. Instead, the superintendent, the interim principal, and other board members have made assertions that cover a wide range of uninformed and reproachful personal opinions.

These fault-finding attitudes include, but are not limited to, claims that I said disparaging things about my own children, I am angry black man, and the video as a whole was offensive and racist. I have so many questions, but my main question is this: how is my video of thanking and appreciating teachers with heartfelt fervor ‘racist’ and ‘offensive’?

In a time where it feels like all we have are heated and rash decisions, the Montclair Public School System has made yet another heated and rash decision based on the color of my skin. I am completely bewildered as to why my race was brought into this conversation.

As everyone has now been able to affirm, I do in fact have children in the school system. I never thought I would have to bear witness to a group of people who questioned my love for them, but yes, I love my children. I wake up every day with the thought of protecting and adoring them. We talk about and watch most of my videos together. They are a part of everything I do and are proud of me, as I am of them.

I also feel love and respect for the teachers who teach my children. I have been given the gift of witnessing educators transition to at-home learning, deal with these tumultuous times, and then find their footing back in the classroom and online. No matter where a teacher is teaching from, I want them to know they are appreciated. My supporters have asked me if I will stop making videos or making videos about teachers. The answer is a very solid, “No.” Did educators give up on teaching? The answer again is solid and true, “No.” Our answers align because our values align.

I have many, many videos about teachers. These all take a comedic view of the situations we are embroiled in because I am a comedian. When I talk about cars, teachers, ballet dancers, do movie reviews, and do Tik Tok dances as a father of two, remember I am a comedian. Teachers, principals, and friends and family of the aforementioned send me messages with ideas about the next video and even request to have some made to share in schools or privately. I will continue to do this for you until I have no breath left in me! I am not concerned about being called ‘angry’ because of the color of my skin or tone of my voice.

For those concerned about me and my mental well-being after reading these negative comments about my work: do not be. You are here, and I feel your presence. My entire team thanks you. There is so much going on in the world that I only have a favor to ask of you. Please stand up a little straighter today and spread love and peace to someone. Do the same tomorrow and forever, as will I. Perhaps if some of these very negative people had received love in the world that day, they would not have taken a well-intended video and turned it toxic.
I will continue to find levity in the world and pass that to my supporters through comedy.
I will pray for the peace for all involved in this situation.

With love and appreciation,
Comedian and Entertainer JOSH PRAY

A Montclair Schools teacher offers a response to Pray in comments.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Mr. Pray,

    I am an African American teacher in the Montclair Public Schools. I was present at the virtual Convocation. We are a district that is known for racial diversity, but we are in fact filled with racially segregated ability groupings and strife. Young people at Glenfield Middle School created videos about race and class in the spring following all the police shootings and students at Montclair High started a page called “Black at Montclair High” on Instagram. The racial inequities in our district are too numerous to count. Most recently we were in the news when a white woman called the cops on her black neighbors and falsely accused the husband of pushing her. Our previous interim super, a very old Southern white man, said he didn’t have a problem with racist teachers and also alluded to having black “friends” essentially sharecropping on his family’s land when he was growing up. Let’s not forget that we are living in a very racially charged time. Black men and women are being shot in the back and suffocated in the streets. This is a time of deep-seated racial unrest, social injustice, and police brutality.

    It is within this setting/context that Dr. Putrino aired your video. Dr. Putrino who has had complaints of racial insensitivity and who is currently at the center of a district discrimination case. Your video in and of itself isn’t racist. Putrino’s choice to play your video at a convocation where the district’s new African American superintendent of schools is trying to issue a call for all students’ achievement, however, is questionable. It suggests that he has some deep-seated biases and perhaps sees black people through the lens stereotype and troupe. This isn’t a problem for a comedian or someone in the general population. It is in fact problematic for someone who is supposed to be an educational leader.

    Your video came on the heels of a video played by Dr. Ponds that was a young African American boy in Dallas-Forth Worth speaking to teachers saying, “I believe in me! Do you believe in me?” Convocation is a time to inspire teachers to teach and believe in learning. We have to look pass race and class and use an equity lens. All teachers and administrators have to believe that all kids can learn. Your video does focus on your being appreciative of teachers and that’s a good thing, but it simply wasn’t in line with the theme of pushing achievement primarily because it involved your talking about what a pain they were. While this has comedic undertones and might play well on a comedy show or at a family barbecue it wasn’t a hit at our Convocation for the teachers of color.

    It is almost 70 years since Brown v. Board of Education and schools are just as segregated. The Northeast has the most segregated classrooms in the county. Educators of color and informed white allies are trying to unseat white privilege, bias, and stereotype. We want educational justice and equity. We want informed administrators and teachers. We want respect and achievement for underserved children. This is not a time for “jokes” we’re serious and we need others (especially our school administrators) to be too.

    Best regards,
    NJteacher777

  2. @NJteacher777

    I agree with your paragraphs 2 & 3 in explaining why the video was inappropriate. I think your opening and closing paragraphs should have been edited to better align to your opening sentence.

  3. Wow NJteacher777! What a response. I sure hope you sent it directly to Mr Pray.

    What a character Putrino is. Bold and clueless at the same time.

  4. Josh Pray‘s response is beautiful—thoughtful, kind, compassionate, peaceful. More people should follow his example. The reaction to his video—saying he is an angry black man—is in fact a racist response. He is a father trying to get through these difficult times with good humor and thankfulness to others. Learn from his example. A little humor goes a Long way to alleviating anxiety, frustration, and toward making connections with others.
    See the good in others.

  5. As someone who has spent the better of 40+ years as a “Montclairian”(I “fell in love” with the town in my 20’s), I have seen it evolve and change over time, as any town does, as do people.
    I have been educated by Montclair literally, both personally and professionally, though not as a child. It is a very special town. It is part of my soul.
    Because of this incident concerning comedian Josh Pray and Dr. Putrino, it has mobilized my thoughts toward a renewed reflection about beloved Montclair.
    Without trying to “fan any flames”, I’d like to just throw out some thoughts, statements, or points about this whole incident and its potential consequences…
    –BLM is a necessary presence, movement, and/or ideal for Montclair to embrace as a guiding philosophy given its history and the context of today’s times.
    –Parenting styles often reflect cultural patterns and norms rooted in familial generations and need to be respected because as a very wise educator in my past once said, “all parents love their children” and come from that perspective. Any “dominant cultural parenting style” should not be used as a benchmark against judging other diverse styles.
    –Administrators have always tried to inject a bit of humor into what can often be a long day of speakers and serious subjects, and was often appreciated.
    –Past staff grievances often color all judgement of future actions involving the person or group who is the alleged transgressor of the aggrieved.
    –Josh is a comedian.
    — Montclair is on the edge. Tread carefully for the love of Montclair.

  6. Time and a place for everything. This wasn’t the time or the place and Putrino found that out quickly.

  7. @ Frank Rubacky hopefully you can overlook my errors and understand the passion with which I was writing. Thanks for the editing suggestions, but I am simply trying to speak to the issues in a format that is new to me.

    @Human I don’t understand the FB reference. I just watched. I guess he liked Higher Learning? No one is saying that Josh Pray is racist or uninformed. A video that features a black man jokingly putting his kids down simply wasn’t the right choice for a forum that was focused on increasing student achievement. Many people were offended. He did thank teachers and that’s great, but he also came across in a very stereotypical way.

    We seem to be divided on many issues in our town/nation at this time. I am peaceful and respectful and I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

  8. I thought Mr. Pray’s “video” was not only offensive and inappropriate but not funny. The famed W.E.B. DuBois went to great lengths in his Crisis Magazine and in other places to refute stereotypical tropes of African American people. Perhaps Mr. Pray has not heard of W.E.B. DuBois or knows nothing of his works as they pertain to the “race problem”. One of my favorite possessions is a book titled “A Small Nation of People, W.E.B. DuBois and African American Portraits of Progress”, with essays by David Levering Lewis and Deborah Willis, two former MacArthur Fellows. Perhaps both Mr. Pray and Mr. Putrino should purchase a copy.

    I have lived in Montclair all of my seventy-six years, attended Nishuane, Hillside, and Montclair High School, and was employed as an educator in the Montclair Public School System for all of thirty-three plus years. I have deep roots in the town and know the town and its reputation well. In all of my travels visiting colleges across the country, the township of Montclair is not only well known, but has an excellent reputation. Who are these people who know not of Montclair’s history, and yet seem hell bent on sullying the reputation of not only its ethnic, religious, and socio-economic diversity, but its great educational reputation? Who are these people who know not of the fact that Montclair High School has consistently sent its well prepared students to some of the best colleges and universities in the country?

    I read that Mr. Pray had never been to Montclair and had never heard of it. Perhaps he should have done some research prior to making his video for the viewing of Montclair’s public school educators. And who are his supporters who have defended him? What do they know about Montclair? How did Mr. Putrino come to know of the existence of Mr. Pray or his video?

    As for Mr. Putrino, and others in the district who may be similarly insensitive, better screening and vetting should be done before they are hired. As for those educators already employed in the district, as soon as we get past this horrible pandemic, diversity workshops are in order; workshops where all educators can get together in small cohorts and discuss/hash out some of the racial,xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and homophobic biases existing in far too many.

  9. Mr. Pray, I am empathetic to what you and your family are going through. To be called an “Angry Black Man” or “Angry Black Woman” on any level is one of the most disturbing “curse words” I can think of being called. It saddens me to see what is going on in my town at the schools that I went to, and what the children have to endure at the hands of this educational system. It is for that reason that we have Homeschooled from day 1! You may not think it is not enough for your children, but trust me that is farthest from the truth especially for raising leaders. Think about it!

  10. Children are stuck in a public schools systems that undeniably have institutional racism. FINALLY our BOE has an anti-racist policy. The work has only just begun. Time to weed out the racist administrators and teachers who have plagued the district for far too long. How many strikes should one get when it comes to racism against students in 2020? I say one and done. These principals and teachers have already had the training. No more excuses. I am almost to the point where I wonder if the system can even be reformed. Or should it be torn down and built back up again? Just like policing, we have to decided….can it be reformed or not. It’s not working for some and we can’t turn our heads anymore.