Racine’s new equity director Damian Evans requested that a beloved “Toys for Tots” charity remove all toys and dolls depicting humans from a display case in a city building, as well as monkeys in a “jungle theme” case, because he received “concerns” about the dolls’ race, gender roles, and because he believes some people have an “insecurity surrounding monkeys.”
In the place of dolls, including those dressed in “African American and Native American garb,” Equity Director Damian Evans suggested that the displays highlight sports or NASCAR toys instead “that are not replicas of humans,” according to emails obtained by Wisconsin Right Now. He said concern was also raised, it was not clear by whom, about “gender roles in the display” because one doll was depicted in a kitchen.
Tex Reynolds Toys For Tots “is well known in Racine County for giving out refurbished toys during the holiday season to needy children,” according to the charity’s website. The charity has a workshop at Racine’s City Annex building. “Today, the workshop is located in the basement of the City Hall Annex, 800 Center St., where more than 35 volunteers work year-round to make old, donated toys new again and then distribute them to thousands of Racine County’s needy children in time for Christmas,” its website says. Its Facebook page shows diverse children making toys.
We contacted Toys for Tots, and the woman who answered the phone, Kelly Frank, said the toys were removed. “We took everything out that they found were inappropriate,” she said. “It came from the city. We rent the space. We can understand with the way things are in the country today that you’re faced with getting politically correct with everything. It’s just a toy display. It’s been there for years.” She said the toys have been in the display case probably since the 1970s. She stressed that the charity doesn’t want any “strife” with the city.
To be clear, we did not get the emails or tip from Toys for Tots but rather from another source.
We sent emails to Evans and to multiple city officials copied on the emails, but we did not hear back. We also obtained an email, however, in which a city official, William T. Miller, DPW Facilities Manager, demanded that Toys for Toys remove the items from its display case by May 18, 2023, three days later.
We also received an email that Damian Evans sent on May 22, 2023, to various city officials as well as an official with Toys for Tots. The tipster also sent us photos of the items that caused concern in the displays. We ran those pictures past two people who have been frequently in the Annex building, and they confirmed that they had seen the toy displays there in the past. Both people said they never thought of the toys as racist or sexist but said they were a little “creepy,” especially at night.
In addition to his equity job, Evans is an associate vice president at Rockford University, according to his LinkedIn page.
He previously worked for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. He is Racine’s first equity officer.
Evans’ email’s subject line reads, “Annex display cases.”
It reads, “I have yet to return to the Annex to view the displays, however, I will go over to the Annex today and look at the displays further. However, I would like to share with you the concerns raised specifically about the one at the lower level. There were concerns made about Race (African American and Native American garb), and there were also concerns raised about the gender roles in the display. For example, the lady in the kitchen could be received as women are assigned to be in the kitchen, and it is not a choice.”
He added, “The second display with the Jungle theme is a little less direct but may be perceived by some as offensive, not due to the jungle theme but because of the current heightened racial tension in America. The historical references to African American people as monkeys could be off-putting as it has left many with a sense of insecurity surrounding monkeys.”
Evans continued, “Lastly, I would add displays are tough to manage because, like a photograph, they capture a time frame and do not speak to the context in which they are set up the way that they are or one’s spirit behind selecting specific items or simply what one person doesn’t know or isn’t offend by another might be. Therefore, I suggest updating the displays highlighting sports or NASCAR toys that are not replicas of Humans.”
The email went to Tex Reynolds’ Toys for Tots, Bill Miller, Ronald Pritzlaff (Assistant Commissioner of Public Works, Operations), and John Rooney (Commissioner of Public Works).
We also received an email from Miller to a woman at Toys for Tots thanking her for her “quick attention to this matter.” It is also dated in May 2023.
The second email, written by Miller to Toys for Tots, says, “Toys for Tots, Our Equity Officer Damian Evans, received a complaint(s) about a couple of the Toys for Tots display case items. Some of the items in the display cases are being looked at as not “modern” or “present.”
He attached images “of some examples for your review. Beyond the African and indigenous sections, the monkeys in the jungle type display were specifically mentioned. Please have these items removed by the end of day this Wednesday the 18th (May 18, 2023).”