Controversial lecturer canned as commencement speaker for MLK High

The School District of Philadelphia has abruptly canceled the appearance of controversial black nationalist Umar Johnson as keynote speaker at Martin Luther High School's June 20 graduation.

Johnson, a self-described pan-Africanist who claims to be a blood relative of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, was dumped after the paper asked the School District about his role at the ceremony.

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Umar Johnson has gaineda national following.

"Assistant Superintendent Eric Becoats and [King] Principal Keisha Wilkins decided to change speakers Wednesday, June 1, after reviewing feedback and concerns related to Umar Johnson," district spokeswoman Raven Hill said in a statement released Thursday.

She said Johnson had been invited by the school, but did not say which school official extended the invitation.

King Principal Keisha Wilkins did not return several phone messages seeking comment.

Johnson, who is from Philadelphia, abruptly hung up when a reporter called him for comment Thursday.

His website, drumarjohnson.com, describes him as a certified school psychologist, doctor of clinical psychology and the holder of degrees in political science and education.

The universities that he attended are not listed.

Johnson has gained a following across the country with some African American parents and education reformers for his stance against the things that he believes are detrimental to black children.

In speeches and interviews posted on the internet, Johnson can be seen railing that standardized tests are the "new Jim Crow signs" used by racists to keep blacks out of college.

He links the rise of autism in black children to immunization shots and has declared, "Black folks don't need white folks' chemicals to stay healthy."

He warns black parents not to "sign their children's life away" by allowing schools to misdiagnosis them with learning disabilities and place them in special education classes.

"Schools are not on your side and they are not your friend," Johnson told one audience.

He has spoken critically of the growth of the LGBT movement in the black community.

Another hallmark of Johnson's lectures is to implore black parents to do better jobs of raising their sons, especially instilling self discipline.

"Parents, your most important job is to teach discipline to these children. Discipline is divine," he has said.

"Teach him discipline, or the white man will be waiting for him – period, point-blank, end of story."

Leah Tucker, of Equality Pennsylvania, which works on behalf of LGBT people, said she believes some of Johnson's words amount to hate speech, and she is relived he will not address King's graduates.

"I don't think that's the message that should be sent to that school," she said.

Hill, the school district spokeswoman, said Johnson has been replaced by journalist and author Mister Mann Frisby. The former Philadelphia Daily News staff writer will address the graduates at Temple University's Liacouras Center.

deanm@phillynews.com

215-854-4172 @mensahdean