Cherry Creek school board president issues apology for using racial slur ‘tar baby’ at teacher awards banquet

AURORA | The president of the Cherry Creek School District board of education issued a formal apology yesterday amid criticism he used a racial slur at an awards banquet earlier in the week.

Dave Willman

In a letter posted to the Cherry Creek website May 1, the district’s School Board President Dave Willman lamented his use of a “racist term” at a teacher awards banquet on Tuesday night. 

“I used a racist term that is deeply offensive, and I am truly sorry,” Willman, a Democrat first elected to the board in 2011, wrote in his letter. “When first confronted about my use of the word, my initial reaction was defensive and I tried to explain my reason for the word choice. I have since had time to reflect on my actions and to have conversations with people in my life, and I now understand that my words were hurtful and damaging.”

Willman did not specify the racist term he used. 

Cherry Creek Spokeswoman Abbe Smith said Willman used the term “tar baby” when describing to the audience a teacher he had when he was a child. He said he and his classmates nicknamed the teacher “tar baby” because the person’s first or last name was Tar. 

Smith said Willman is not available for comment. 

Several Republican presidential candidates have faced blowback for using the term, which for much of the 20th century was used to refer to an insurmountable problem.

In more modern times, the phrase has been interpreted as a derogatory slur used to refer to African Americans.