An Appleton pastor and school board member is defending his mention of his faith during a speech at last week’s Appleton North High School graduation — and saying the backlash is retaliation for his work to end the school district’s Truancy Court.
Pastor Alvin Dupree, who became the first African American elected to the Appleton school board in 2017, spoke at the graduation ceremony on June 6. During his 10-minute speech, he said, “As the principal mentioned, whatever your source of strength is, you lean on it. Never let anyone make you hide it. For me, my source of strength is my faith and my relationship with Jesus Christ.” Hearing some cheers from the crowd, he continued, “Sounds like I’ve got some believers in this room. If you are here and you believe that, go ahead and clap your hands. Never succumb to the pressure of being politically correct. Be you, wherever you go. Be you.”
In an interview with FoxValley365 this week, Dupree said he didn’t intend to proselytize, but rather encouraging students to exercise their faith freely, whatever it is.
“No matter what our faith is, there should be no trying to make us be silent about it,” he said. “Whether you’re Muslim, Jew, gentile or no faith at all, it’s very, very important for us to debate it, to be free.”
In fact, one of the other speakers was a Muslim student, and Dupree said he wanted her to be free to express her faith publicly as well.
Dupree also noted that Appleton North Principal David Pyenberg mentioned his own spirituality.
“I speak from my heart,” Dupree said. “The principal stood up and said to his source of strength was his spirituality. He did in fact reference as his source of strength his spirituality and family. I was introduced as Pastor Dupree, and as such, I made it a point to say that my source my strength is my faith in God and my trust in Jesus Christ. And I told the class, whatever your faith is and whatever your source of strength is, just make sure that you lean on it and you don’t have to hide it for anyone.”
Dupree, a 20-year Marine veteran whose wife also served in the Navy and whose daughter is on active duty with the Marines in Korea, said he served in order to preserve Americans’ freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
He also said he believes the controversy is a distraction from his work to end the controversial Truancy Court, which put children in juvenile detention if they were late to school. The program was suspended last year after many complaints about the abusive language of the judge assigned to the Truancy Court.
“I think this is just a distraction because people in power and position are upset because I really highlighted this Truancy Court,” Dupree said. “This is a strategy to try to detour people from the truancy court court because they are literally trying to bring that thing back. … Their hope is to silence me. Myself, people from the LGBTQ community and people from various parties, we have been working together, unified, and they have lost. So they figure if they can try to put religion out there and try to make some sort of divide, that’d cause us not to work together.”
In fact, Dupree said it’s his faith that forced him to address the Truancy Court issue in the first place.
“I said to the people in power sitting alongside me on the board, and in administrative leadership as well as in the local government, it’s my faith that we will not allow me to be silent on this issue,” he said. “Even if it means that I can’t come to your tea parties anymore, my faith and my conviction will not allow me to sit back and be quiet while you all push poor families into this pipeline from school to prison. I’m not going to be quiet about it.”
The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a complaint with the school board, but Dupree is undeterred, saying hundreds of parents and students thanked him for his remarks after the ceremony.
“Thank you to everyone who has opposing views,” he said. “I appreciate their ability to even practice publicly what they feel. That’s what America is about.”