Creating racial cohesion from understanding

Senior Calvin Thompson spoke about racial issues in the high school at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day assembly. Photo by Ethan Roubenoff.
Senior Calvin Thompson spoke about racial issues in the high school at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day assembly. Photo by Ethan Roubenoff.

During our Martin Luther King, Jr. Day assembly, I delivered a speech about the quiet racism in Brookline and the apathy that we, as students, exhibit. I challenged the school population, chiefly teachers and students, to engage in more discussions centered around race.

In my English class immediately after the ceremony, my teacher decided that he wanted to “take up Calvin’s challenge,” and have a race discussion in class. Unsurprisingly, the race conversation among seniors who have all applied or are applying to college quickly turned to a discussion on affirmative action. While these students are usually amicable, our discussion quickly turned uncomfortable.

My college acceptance was the example of affirmative action in the class. At one point I was asked blatantly by a fellow student, “Do you think you deserved to get in over the kids with better grades and SAT scores?” After the class I was approached by a fellow black student from the class who said, “I’m truly so sorry for you. This can’t be the first time this has happened and that’s very unfair to you.”

It was saddening but immediately clear that the spirit of racial cohesion I hoped to instill had not caught on. In my speech, I said that the MLK Day gathering was a “meaningless assembly,” intending for the rhetorical and facetious comment to catch listeners. I just ended up stating the obvious.

The very people who were first to say, “Great speech, Calvin!” were also the ones who did not intend to act upon my suggestions. I figured this was my fault, though. I said, “Be cohesive!” with no plan suggested for action. So I am building on that speech with suggestions and strategies for improving our school community.

I believe that the first step to building a cohesive community is understanding the people around us. In that vein, I suggest sitting in on a few African-American Scholars classes, speaking with the teacher Dr. Christopher Vick and sitting around in his office once in a while. Spend some time in the METCO room, and talk to a METCO student in your class.

Talk to the lonely black student(s) in your classes if they are there. Support the preservation of METCO so that those things continue to be possible. As a senior, consider taking the African-American Studies class. Go to Race Reels. These suggestions are not just for students; teachers should also strive to garner a greater understanding of the races around them. I give suggestions and discuss issues pertaining to the African-American community, for that is what I am familiar with, but this ideal of racial cohesion is most definitely not limited to black and white.

I suppose the question now is whether anyone heeds these suggestions. Even with an extensive list of ideas and propositions, will the school community act?

I have the highest hopes that we will, but if history shows us anything, the likelihood is that we will not. We will be more focused on issues thousands of miles away. Let us change the things we, as a community, touch every day.