Comedian Dave Chappelle surprised the public after he announced that the Duke Ellington School of the Arts will not bear his name, despite previous plans to do so.

The Washington D.C. school held a dedication ceremony last month for the renaming of the theatre in Chappelle’s honor, but he revealed it will be called the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression instead.

“Chappelle was a theatre student at Duke Ellington and that theater is his home,” reps for the school said in a statement. “He wanted to pay homage to a place that nurtured his talent and helped him learn that sky’s the limit when you pursue your dreams and stay true to yourself as an artist. He wanted students for generations to come to know that artistic freedom is a human right, and to uplift conversations around creative expression and artistic responsibility. The theater for Artistic Freedom and Creative Expression is a symbol of hope so Ellington’s young artists can continue to have challenging conversations needed to change the world.”

Chappelle, one of the most famous alums to attend the school, had previously been under fire after his Netflix special, The Closer, was criticized for being transphobic.


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The backlash that followed prompted the school to postpone the ceremony, which was originally supposed to take place back in November. Ellington students also voiced their concerns over his comments, which led to a month’s worth of weekly meetings with students, Principal Sandi Logan and the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance.

Chappelle told the event’s audience on Monday that even though he thought the backlash wasn’t about his work, he didn’t want his name to hinder the students’ focus on the meaning of their art.

Regardless of Chappelle’s decision and the criticism he said “sincerely” hurt him, “the Ellington family is my family,” he stated.

Netflix will continue to work with the comedian on future projects. The streaming service recently announced the making of four new stand-up comedy specials with comedians handpicked by Chappelle.

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