ATLANTA - A swirl of controversy over a Facebook post and its accompanying racially-charged comments have led to an Atlanta man's job termination.
Gerod Roth, who is white, was fired from the Polaris Marketing Group in Atlanta last week after posting a picture with his co-worker's African-American child to the social media site. Roth's Facebook friends made insulting and racist remarks to the picture that has since gone viral.
Roth sat down with FOX 5's Marissa Mitchell for his first interview addressing the situation.
“I just really feel upset, not only with myself, but also the character that was based off the comments that my friends had made. Cayden has been victimized but I have been targeted,” Roth said.
The post has since been deleted from Facebook. But Sydney Shelton, the mother of 3-year-old Cayden Jenkins, said she was broken-hearted to see people calling her child “Kunta Kinte” and saying they didn't know Roth was a “slave owner.” Shelton is a single mother and brings Cayden to her job after school. She told FOX 5 she was unaware that Roth took a picture with her son.
Roth claims he didn't think she would mind.
“People post things in a jokingly manner and it gets taken a completely different way but I don't believe any of these people were joking,” Shelton said.
Shelton also told FOX 5 she's thankful for the #HisNameIsCayden movement that is gaining attention online. She said people from all over the world are reaching out and showing support. Her employer, Polaris Marketing Group, is also accepting gifts for the boy whose birthday is later this month.
“He is not a deaf child. He is not mute. He has never been abandoned. He is a well-loved, fun-loving, hyper-active and typical three-year-old,” Shelton said in response to comments made on the post.
Roth admits to making one remark on the thread.
“A person said, 'Oh, you mean to tell me that you just have wild kids running through your office building?' And that's when I said 'he was feral.' That was interpreted as racist and that, honestly, was not my intention whatsoever.”
Roth also insists he told one of his Facebook friends to stop making racist remarks. But that comment was cropped out of the screen shot, he said. Roth also told FOX 5 one of his Facebook friends, who doesn't work at PMG, was fired from her job for a comment she made on the thread.
Roth emailed Shelton an apology. View the entire email below.
Shelton told FOX 5 she hasn't found the words to respond at this time. She also says the apology didn't seem sincere.
The president of Polaris Marketing Group declined an interview with FOX 5 News, but post this statement to their Facebook page Friday afternoon:
Email from Roth to Shelton:
Hi Sydney, I just wanted to reach out to you personally to express my upmost and sincerest apologies. This entire situation was absolutely blown out of proportion and misconstrued to a point where it is almost unrepairable. To make a long story short, A few weeks back my girlfriend was applying for a new position so she went on a social media blackout and asked me to remove her from my profile picture, when I opened up my photos tab there was the picture of Cayden and myself that he had asked me to take when I was hanging out with him while you were in hang back. Since it was the first photo that I came across where my girlfriend and I were not present together I decided to make it my profile picture because it was adorable. However after a period of inactivity on Facebook I came back only to realize that many members of my network on my friends list were spreading hate and being disgusting in their actions, to which I instantly removed them from my friends list. To top it off, when the photo was screen capped they made sure to Photoshop out the first two comments, the first comment was a friend asking who's child that was because he was so cute, in which I replied "I'm hanging out with him while my coworker is in a meeting, he is my little buddy." At that point someone chimed in asking if we just have tons of children running around our office which is where you saw the reply that I said he was feral. Once the photo started gaining momentum on social media, people were going crazy in the picking me as some type of monster, I asked multiple times on Twitter white people were demonizing me over a picture of me and my friends child but to no avail. Late yesterday morning people started really throwing fuel on the fire by creating fake Twitter and Facebook accounts with my picture and name and started bashing people saying things that were entirely untrue and unwarranted, which is exactly how the fake conversation of a girl talking with me about the child being deaf came about. As I said, the entire situation grew wildly out-of-control but from the very beginning literally the only thing that I wanted was just to have the cute picture of me and your son up while my girlfriend was going through her final interview process. Words truly cannot describe my sympathy and shame as I am beyond words by how embarrassing this whole fiasco is, I never meant to hurt you or Cayden, I would feel the exact same way if anyone ever came after my daughter Adalei like that as well, to say that I am ashamed and my choice of friends and not taking a better course of action is a massive understatement. It may be too soon, but I did just want to let you know this entire fiasco has been created due to the people that I called friends and their harsh words online, I was let go from both of my positions of work, and now have a tarnished name and reputation due to the actions of the individuals that were commenting on that picture as well as the people who decided to make fake profiles to help instigate the situation even further into a disaster. I know the situation as a whole is a lot to handle. And I'm sure you were getting word of it from every direction, but just know that I would never ever willingly put a child on a pedestal to let people openly chastise and ridicule him. Is a very specific reason why I brought you in for a preliminary interview with us and gave you the green my through our hiring process, you're very persistent and strong and have an extremely bright future ahead of you, I feel beyond terrible that this is what I am pretrade as now to you as well as everyone else in the African-American community. I don't expect you to except my apology or even read this for that matter, but I did want to let you know that I am sincerely apologetic and disgusted with the way that everything turned out, if there is anything at all that I can do for you or Kayden, please let me know and I would be more than happy to make it happen.