I have literally started this piece a thousand times in my head. It is maybe why I have not written anything in months. I am perplexed and I don’t know how to adequately express myself. I have the entire spectrum of feelings: anger, pride, deep sadness, hope.
I want to say I am coming at this with my hands open in front of me willing to discuss. I am grieved at the state of our city, but I see the possibility of change and it is there hope enters in.
Here are the facts: almost two years ago, we followed in some friends’ footsteps, sending our oldest child, Ford, to the elementary school at the end of our street. He is possibly the only toeheaded child in the entire school and certainly in the 2% minority for his skin color. For various reasons, most other families in our neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods chose to send their children to the predominantly white school across town.
And here’s the heart of it: I grew up in Thomasville in a middle-class family. I am white. I know the perceptions. The perception is that the other elementary school (which I attended) is the best school. For many middle-class families, black and white, any other school is not even a thought in their heads. I have to admit, had my friend Katie not done her research and sent her own child to our neighborhood school that Ford is currently attending, I am not sure the thought would have entered my head either. It is one of the many many things in our small Southern town that is the way it has always been.
This status quo has been a domino effect for me, spiraling my attitude downwards quickly: the status of our segregated schools, the state of our health care system, the growing obesity problem in the world at large, right back to my frustration of the addiction my own children have to television which is, of course, my own fault. Before I know it I am drowning in hopelessness, pulling the white flag out of my back pocket.
Then I read quotes like this from Sandra Graham in an article out of UCLA about her research on the social benefits of diversity:
“When people form friendships with people of different races and ethnicities, they form better attitudes about those groups, and are more tolerant. We want to show that diversity benefits everybody,” Graham says. “A more diverse population is the future. If we can’t help people to understand and be less afraid of it, we are sunk.”
And there it is. My heart is beating faster, my palms are wet. It makes me think about stopping people with a different skin color than mine on the sidewalks as we pass each other to ask, “What do you think about the state of our school system? Of our city?” Just because Ford goes to a school where he is one of two white children in his class, I realize am not exempt from being a part of the problem. The truth is, I don’t have many deep friendships with people of different races and ethnicities either. I wouldn’t even know how or where to begin, although getting to know some of the parents of kids in Ford’s class feels like a tiny step in the right direction.
I know my frustrations are a result of the broken world we live in. My own brokenness. My own need to feel the safety net of complacency. I am afraid to ask my white friends why they refuse to send their children to a school where most of the children don’t look like their child. I am more afraid of their answers.
And here is my deeper question, which is just as much a conviction as it is fear: as Christians, what kind of a life is Jesus calling us to? One of safety and comfort? One where we avoid hard and run towards easy? Can we even find a way to live in a world where we protect our children but refuse to hide behind our fears for them? A quick Google search will tell you that a person’s socioeconomic status has much much more to do with how successful their child will be in school than what school they send them to. Here’s a quote from a Washington Post article from June 2018:
“University of Virginia researchers who looked at data from more than 1,000 students found that all of the advantages supposedly conferred by private education evaporate when socio-demographic characteristics are factored in. There was also no evidence found to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools benefit more from private school enrollment.”
Listen, I went to Thomasville High School. I went to MacIntyre Park Middle School. I am a product of the Thomasville City School System. I know it has changed in the 15 years (yikes!) since I’ve walked the halls. What am I hoping is that there are others out there who, like me, love the City School System and are willing to find a way forward.
I guess I am asking for us, as a town, as a community, but more importantly as friends across the table from each other to be able to have a conversation. For status quo not to rule. For us all to look outside the box, together. The truth is, I still get scared, too, ya’ll. I worry about my children; I worry about the decisions I’ve made for them. But wouldn’t it all be a little less scary if we could all do it together? To push against what has become the “norm”, to go beyond what is expected? What if we stopped being afraid to disagree with each other, to listen to each other, to hear each other.
I don’t know if it will work. I might fail. I might have to send Ford to another school. I can’t see next year or the year after that. I can only see tomorrow morning when we will walk the two blocks together to Scott Elementary and tomorrow afternoon when we will walk them again towards home.
I can only be willing to try. Why don’t we do it together?