Aurora Mental Health Manager Gone After Blackface Probe | Westword

Aurora Mental Health Manager Gone After Blackface Investigation

The head of a treatment team has left after an investigation into his 2011 blackface Halloween costume as Michael Vick.
Hunter Kennedy, former manager at  Aurora Mental Health & Recovery, wearing blackface in a 2011 photo.
Hunter Kennedy, former manager at Aurora Mental Health & Recovery, wearing blackface in a 2011 photo. Facebook/Hunter Kennedy
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Hunter Kennedy, the manager of a treatment team at Aurora Mental Health & Recovery, has left his position following an investigation into his wearing blackface.

The departure was announced internally early March 20 in an email sent to staff by Aurora Mental Health officials. It came just one week after the The Sentinel learned of photos posted to Kennedy's public Facebook page in November 2011, featuring the now-former employee wearing blackface. The photos showed Kennedy dressed in a Halloween costume as former NFL player and infamous dog-fighting facilitator Michael Vick, alongside a person in a beaten-dog outfit.

The pictures were said to be the focus of an internal probe by Aurora Mental Health officials, who had been tipped off about their existence by the Sentinel report.

"Hunter Kennedy is no longer an employee of Aurora Mental Health & Recovery," confirms spokesperson Lori MacKenzie, who says she cannot share additional details about the specific reason for Kennedy's axing. Kennedy started in the position in December last year.

"Due to the fact that this is a confidential personnel issue, I am not able to share specifics," MacKenzie says in an email.

Kennedy's position at Aurora Mental Health — as the head of its Assertive Community Treatment Team —was posted on online job boards such as LinkedIn around 3 a.m. on March 20.

According to the job description, whoever takes Kennedy's place needs to have an "emphasis on cultural sensitivity and in accordance with trauma-informed care guidelines."

Described online as a "large, nonprofit community mental health organization," the Aurora treatment center is a state-licensed facility that provides services for both mental health and addiction problems. Its website says employees are "steadfastly committed to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion" and their mission is "deeply rooted in our diverse community."

"As community members of the most diverse city in Colorado, we strive to be a visible leader in social justice," the description continues. "Initiated in 2018, our employee-led Equity & Inclusion Council guides our work in making these essential values tangible and demonstrable in the way we care for our clients and engage our employees." According to the Aurora Mental Health website, the director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion works "to ensure that our practices and actions as an organization authentically reflect our beliefs and values."

After the launch of an investigation, Kennedy told the Sentinel that he didn't have "a racist bone" in his body in spite of the blackface photo, which has been scrubbed from the internet, along with Kennedy's Facebook page.

"It’s kind of bewildering to me that I’m being persecuted for a Halloween costume that was from so long ago," the Sentinel quoted him as saying. "But, if I would have known the picture was even on there to this day, I would have deleted it sooner."

Kennedy told the paper that his main intention in wearing the blackface was to poke fun at Vick's dog-fighting situation rather than the color of his skin — and he never viewed his costume as racist. Others who have worn blackface and later faced criticism have made similar claims; many others have gone unpunished for their outfits despite their impact on society and others.

Colorado has had an unfortunate history of blackface incidents.

In 2019, Colorado State University got hit with backlash over the school's decision to not punish four CSU students who were captured in a photo doing the "Wakanda Forever" pose from Disney's Black Panther movie while in blackface.

In 2011, the University of Colorado Boulder had to deal with outrage related to its longstanding tradition of Black Outs at football games, after people began noticing students wearing black paint on their faces to show off their school spirit. The Boulder Faculty Assembly's diversity committee blasted the incidents as "unacceptable behavior."

A year later, Colorado Springs second-grader Sean King sparked outrage with a Martin Luther King Jr. costume — complete with black face paint — that he donned for a school project. King, who is white, later came forward with his mother and said he never intended to offend anybody.

In June 2021, a St. Vrain School District principal resigned after a Snapchat photo circulated of his students reenacting the murder of Minneapolis's George Floyd, with one of them portraying Floyd in blackface. He was a principal at Mead High School in Longmont.

"We as a generation know that racial profiling and racism of any kind is not acceptable," a petition posted in response to the MHS incident said at the time. "It’s unbelievable that there are still people acting so immature towards racism."

When speaking with the Sentinel, Kennedy did not apologize for his actions. "Some of my best friends are of all different races and creeds," he insisted. "There was no malicious intent."

Attempts to reach Kennedy were unsuccessful.
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