Listen to this story
Last July 4th weekend, I had the privilege of attending my 50th high school reunion. My class has had several reunions over the years, and this time there were classmates who were attending for the first time — meaning we hadn’t seen each other in 50 years.
Our gatherings were rich. People seemed to really enjoy reconnecting, sharing memories, and getting caught up on what has been going on in each other’s lives. There was lots of laughter and smiles as we swapped memories of each other growing up in Yellow Springs, memories of our favorite (and not so favorite) teachers, and our 1972 district championship basketball team.
One special memory we had was that, beginning in junior high school, our teachers began to expose us to current issues. We got involved with reading Franz Fanon, Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Gordon Parks. We had intense and revealing discussions and debates about the Civil Rights Movement unfolding before us.
We became more sensitized to social issues during our high school years. We continued to read books by Black authors, including Ralph Ellison, Maya Angelou, and Claude Brown, and the poetry of Langston Hughes, Sonia Sanchez, LeRoi Jones, Nikki Giovanni and Amiri Baraka. One of the effects of our education is that as a student body and a school, we had a very low tolerance for racism. We lived in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the growing anti-racist development of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and other progressive organizations. Our conversations in classes reflected current events, and we examined our immediate environment.
During my senior year, several students, including myself, were chosen to attend a Black-white encounter session led by the late Dr. Charles King, a nationally known anti-racism trainer. Black-white encounter sessions were intensive interactive sessions led by Black facilitators by which white participants had to confront their own personal and systemic racism. They were popular in the late 1960s and 70s. The sessions were confrontational and intense, and we were charged with bringing them back to the school, which we did. There were efforts to institute a Black history class, which were successful but short-lived. Some of us were getting keen on identifying institutionalized racism, making changes in our immediate environment, and contemplating whether we would continue the efforts after graduating.
I wanted to ask what people were doing to fight the rising tide of white supremacy, but instead, I just listened and discovered no one had really exerted any energy in that direction. Most people had gone on to their careers, raising families and pursuing what America defines as success. And after all, I didn’t want to distract from our joy of reconnecting after not seeing each other for so long.
Continue reading over at YellowSpringsNews.