An event aimed at bringing seniors in Medley together is putting the town in the spotlight for the wrong reasons after a man showed up in blackface.
The incident happened at a recent fashion show hosted by the Medley Police Department with an "African Safari" theme. One photo of the event showed the town's mayor, Roberto Martell, standing and smiling with the man in blackface.
Reached by phone Friday, Martell apologized repeatedly, saying he had no idea it was insulting. He added that he would take steps to make sure it never happens again in Medley.
"The Medley Police Department has been running our senior fashion show for 19 years," Police Chief Jeanette Said-Jinete said in a statement. "This event brings our senior citizens together to promote community and have a good time. This year's theme was African Safari, and unfortunately, a 78-year-old participant dressed inappropriately and clearly did not understand how others might be offended. For this, we apologize and regret the incident."
Ruban Roberts, president of the Miami-Dade NAACP, said he plans to meet with Medley's mayor and police chief next week to discuss the incident.
"Especially in a municipality or police department and government entity, it's very distasteful," Roberts told NBC 6 by phone Friday. "It conjures up images of black folks who are viewed as unintelligent, lazy, over-sexualized, over-criminalized, those kinds of things. I was hurt and saddened and angered."
Martell said he will be scheduling a workshop with staff so that everyone understands the offensive nature of blackface.
"All we can make sure, that folks who claim they're not aware, we can make sure they are aware and agree on particular sensitivity training and make sure policies in those municipalities won't allow this to happen," Roberts said.
In a statement Friday night, Martell said he was "genuinely sorry" for posing for the photo.
"I'm upset with myself for not realizing at the time the photo was being taken how serious and hurtful this image would be to people of color," the statement read in part. "I was insensitive."
"I have learned from this and appreciate all who have contacted me to kindly show me the error of my judgment and to better educate me on how posing for this photo inadvertently went against my values and our town's beliefs of inclusion and respect for all," the statement continued. "Again, I'd like to express my apologies. I look forward to rebuilding the trust of any of our residents, employees, and all; who were upset by my lack of sensitivity."