Columbia city manager's comments outrage some community members, activists

City Manager Mike Matthes (File).

What was meant to be a presentation about poverty in Columbia was perceived as bigoted and ignorant by some community members.

Wednesday night, activists spoke out against Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes, saying he sent a different message than what he intended at his presentation on poverty at a diversity breakfast on Martin Luther King Day.

At the breakfast, Matthes praised the decreasing unemployment rate among African Americans in Columbia. He then presented a handful of photos that were part of the #IfTheyGunnedMeDownWhichPicWouldTheyUse movement sparked by the portrayal of Michael Brown following his death. Matthes showed five photos of African Americans and how they would dress on the weekend.

"I'm going to be very honest with you. As a white man, these make me feel a little uncomfortable," Matthes said presenting the photos in a single slide.

"In the upper left he's flashing the gang sign, the guy in the middle, he looks like he's going to rob a bank," Matthes said as he went on to describe the three others.

The following slide showed what each person looked like at work.

"The funny thing is, about the guy who looked like he was going to rob a bank, he's a banker," Matthes said.

The photos were part of Matthes' push for managers and business owners to hire local, African American employees.

"People don't go dress to their job interview like that,that's why it's so wacky," said Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, an activist with Race Matters, Friends. She said she attended Monday's breakfast.

"It's made up, cockamamie nonsense. We have a problem with unemployment in this town because people have very deep seeded ideas based on that kind of stuff that he talked about black people, that's why, and that's what he should've said," she said

"When he gets up to speak like that on that auspicious day that's really important to people who believe in social justice, you need to have your act together,"Wilson-Kleekamp said. "If you don't understand the kind of cultural humility that you need to have, and you don't know how to handle those subjects so you know what's appropriate culturally to use and what not to use, you probably shouldn't do it."

As of late Wednesday night, neither Matthes nor Columbia Mayor Brian Treece had responded to requests for comment.

You can watch Matthes' full presentation here at the 16:00 mark.

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