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By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
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By Michael Lacey
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You gotta be careful with hip-hop. The members of Impact, a student dance club at Millennium High School in Goodyear, knew that. Last October, club members put together a mix tape of various artists. They used beats from this rapper, lyrics from that one, and made a dance routine every member liked and was willing to perform before the student body at an upcoming pep rally.
And everything in it was clean.
That's not easy when you're editing a bad boy like Ludacris, the Atlanta rapper who made famous the phrase, "Tell me who's yo' weed-man, how do you smoke so good?"
His current single, "Stand Up," the one Impact sampled, became a radio hit only through the work of diligent censors.
Its first verse begins:
"How you ain't gon' FUCK! Bitch out me?
"I'm the GOD DAMN reason you in VIP."
But Impact tempered Ludacris significantly, and in the end, the "dirtiest" language in the tape was a single word.
The mix tape that the mostly black members of Impact handed to their sponsor, Jill Bould, was nothing but "bits and pieces of different songs," says Ashlee Anderson, a black sophomore at Millennium then a member of Impact.
The lyrics were appropriate for school, Impact's members thought.
But Bould, who recently admitted to New Times that she doesn't listen to hip-hop, thought otherwise.
She says the word "hell" might offend someone. And she's not willing to take the chance.
"If there is someone who is at a basketball game, at a performance, and it offends that one person, that's what we need to think of," Bould says. "We need to think of everyone and think of every single word."
So Impact wasn't allowed to dance, while the school's all-white dance line has performed at nearly every sporting event at Millennium this school year.
Ultimately, the club did perform -- twice. But the few Impact members who were left at that point danced to wordless music, in a stomp performance nothing like what they had originally envisioned.
And last week, the club disbanded completely.
"It's not fair," Impact member Samone Powell, a black senior at Millennium, said late last year of the club's troubles.
But some black parents say it's more than unfair. They say it's racist.
Michael Mack has two children at Millennium. Both belonged to Impact. One tried out for the basketball team and didn't make it. Mack says it's because his kid is black. Neither child, according to Mack -- and the kids themselves -- is learning about black history at Millennium.
Mack is a soft-spoken man with a loud message. He grew up in south central Los Angeles and moved to Goodyear in 1996.
This is not the first time he's encountered racism in the West Valley.
In 2000, Mack was one of 11 African Americans to file a class-action lawsuit against Direct Marketing Services in Peoria, which alleged the employees were harassed, paid lower wages and denied promotions. A federal judge agreed and Mack shared a $700,000 settlement, the largest sum ever awarded through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Phoenix office.
Mack's girlfriend, Tiffeny Denman, also says there's racism at Millennium. She wants to know why the school doesn't have a black student union.
Forty-four people, including six parents, 13 students and seven former and current teachers and administrators at Millennium, were interviewed for this story, but only three parents went on the record. Even Mack requested that his middle name, Michael, be used instead of his real first name. All say they fear retaliation. Because Mack and Denman are basically the only parents willing to be vocal, Millennium's principal, Sandra Haiflich, refutes the allegations as "a couple of people banging the drums." She, along with other members of Millennium's administration, denies every allegation.
Haiflich wants to know why she first heard of the allegations from New Times, rather than from the parents. Denman says she can't get in touch with Haiflich. Another black parent, Velma Lopez, says any time she asks to speak to Haiflich, she's pawned off to a black staff member. "What, I'm not good enough to talk to the principal?" Lopez says.
If there is racism at Millennium, it is subtle. Some minority kids interviewed for this story say they've never encountered prejudice in any form. Others say they see it often.
In any case, what is happening at Millennium has piqued the interest of officials at the NAACP, the Arizona Civil Liberties Union and the Arizona Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League. One national expert says what might be happening at the school is called the New Racism: where the racist doesn't even realize he or she is being racist.
Here in Arizona, people are on the lookout for racism. The state's got a reputation.
In 1969, Arizona lawmakers opposed legislation to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s life. There were questions about King's ties to communism, questions about an extramarital affair. King's proponents said look to the principles he espoused, not the life he led.
Dr. King was not given a holiday in 1969, and an effort in the 1970s to honor him was denied as well.