Black and Brown students waited for their elite private school, Benilde St. Margaret (Benilde), to say something following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man killed by Minneapolis police. And then, the uprising began to happen less than two miles from their school. But to their disappointment, while many other students were receiving emails of encouragement and support, Benilde students received a social media that included a photo of a Black former student, Noah Layton, Class of 2020, which said, “We give you thanks for the spirit of peace that calms our mind and stills our life.”
“This is gross,” Layton wrote on his own Instagram. “For me to be used in a post like this, without even addressing the issues in our own city, without asking if they can use my picture, is tone deaf.”
Layton had long been a quiet critic of the school’s tendency to use Black students as props in advertisements that reflected far greater levels of diversity than the overwhelmingly white student body. Being tokenized for stock images was such a common annoyance among students of color that when a small group organized a food drive on campus following the uprising, they preemptively insisted the school not photograph them for self-promoting social media purposes.
The use of his image was the least of Layton’s concerns. After years of withholding his true feelings about what it was like to be Black at Benilde, this was the last straw.