I was the White Girl at Michael Brown’s School

FergusonCard1_0In response to the happenings in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri this week, it is important that we have a discussion as to why Ferguson, a small, predominately Black community on the edge of St. Louis City, is the epicenter of racially charged protests, which were triggered when Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old, was shot multiple times and killed by a white police officer in broad daylight. Ferguson, like so many little pockets around the US, is now a symbol of the long-standing struggle between Black and White America.

Where Did You Go to High School?

When you first meet a fellow St. Louisian they will ask you this one question: Where did you go to high school? This seemingly innocuous question serves the purpose of finding out any surface-level related facts about your religion, financial status, political stance, and family legacy. This is just one example of how St. Louis is divided on so many levels.

Ferguson is one more example that White Privilege exists. It is real. It is rampant. It is evidenced by our racially divided neighborhoods and our schools. It perpetuates White Flight. It is the crux of White Apathy.  It is the cause of generational racism.

I know because I was the white girl at Michael Brown’s school, and I was protected because I was white.

I was Protected Because I was a White Girl in an All Black School

In 1985 my parents moved from University City, where the prestigious Washington University is located, to Bel-Ridge, a low-income, racially mixed neighborhood just 3.4 miles from Ferguson, MO — the area where the world’s attention was focused this week when Michael Brown, the young man who recently graduated from Normandy High School, was murdered by police in Ferguson in broad daylight and whose killing ignited a long-overdue racially charged protest that turned violent for nights on end.

St. Louis is above the Mason-Dixon line but you wouldn’t know it. The KKK is still prevalent there and although people won’t say it to your face, there are a good many who don’t like Black people or Jewish people and will tell you so over the comfort of a beer at the local bar. Normandy, my old school district, struggled with violence, the result of systematic oppression, and the fallout of White Flight. My parents moved into the district naive of its struggles because they had struggles of their own. My family was part of the working poor class and getting a house on an FHA loan was our ticket to normalcy and our version of The American Dream. So we made the 10 minute trek across town to the other side of the “tracks” also known as Highway 70.

I spent first grade through eighth grade at the Normandy School District– the same district that Michael Brown graduated from in May of 2014. I was the white girl, and I was the minority.

Play Mamas & Double-Dutch

My elementary years at Bel-Nor and Bel-Ridge Schools were the positive culmination of the Civil Rights Movement– the practicals of Brown v Board in real life. We were happy Black children and white children learning together.  I was protected from the gang-related incidents in and around school due to the fact that I, along with most of my white friends, were placed in an isolated, gifted tracking program. I was protected by my Black friends who showed their affection by assigning themselves as my “Play Mamas” and “Play Brothers and Sisters”, a title which meant that my older Black friends had taken me under their wing and “had my back” if anything were to happen. Not that I feared that anything would happen. I was cute, little, naive, and knew how to double-dutch like a champion.

When I graduated from Elementary to Junior High, life felt more on edge, especially during the Rodney King Trial and the LA Riots that followed after the white police officer’s acquittal. I stopped walking to school after I saw a kid get chased home by a group of known gang members.  But I was still separated from the majority of my fellow classmates as all of my core classes were part of the gifted program. This meant that all of my main classes were small and racially mixed as evenly as possible, considering there were about 400 students and of those 30 were white. My school was filled with wonderful teachers who truly cared about their students but who spent most of their time breaking up fights in the hallway and in the lunchroom.

After visiting Normandy High School and seeing that they were installing metal detectors in response to increased gang violence, I decided that it was time to leave.

The White School Across Town was Better

The summer before 9th Grade I asked one of my former Normandy classmates and friends if I could live with her family. They had moved across town to Parkway School District, a predominately white and Asian part of town. I remember the phone call where I asked if I could stay with her family for the year in order to attend a better high school. It sounded more like I was asking if she wanted to go to the mall:

“Hi, Lydia. I don’t know what to do about High School. Do you think it would be okay if I live with you just so I can go to school?”

“Hold on. I’ll ask my dad.”

Her dad said yes and signed a Power of Attorney for me to attend the school across town. And so, at the age of 13, I packed up my Cover Girl magazines and Aquanet hairspray and moved to my friend’s house. Parkway North was just another 20 minutes west of Bel-Ridge, but it was a different world. Things were nicer. Suburbs were cleaner. And the schools were harder. Where I had once been part of a handful of white kids in Normandy, I was now the majority.  Although I was deemed gifted and a straight A student in Normandy, I struggled to maintain a C average in Parkway. It was only years later when Normandy lost its accreditation that I realized my 4.0 Normandy GPA did not hold the same weight at the white school across town.

Ferguson is about the Deep Black v. White Divide in Our Nation

As I watch the footage of the riots and angst in my old neighborhood, I cannot help but think about my Normandy days and why I, like so many of my white and Black friends, moved across town to a better school. Yes, I along with most of my friends took part in what is known as White Flight, whereby a white family continues to move further away from a Black community and in the process takes their tax dollars with them to a whiter school district. I took advantage of my White Privilege.

Ferguson begs the question: Why are we, as a nation, looking the other way when it comes to White Privilege? Ferguson stands as a symbol for all the little neighborhoods across America where white privilege takes precedence over Black protection, safety, and justice for its people.

There is a divide that goes deeper than Ferguson. It is filled with pain and loss for our children who are senselessly killed because of the color of their skin. It is filled with tears for our families who can’t afford to move to a better part of town to receive a better education. It is filled with frustration because the neighborhood school is not doing its job of educating its students nor its community. It is filled with angst and fear that things will never change.

Being the White Minority Allowed Me to Feel Empathy for Other Minorities

I have since left St. Louis and made my home in Los Angeles, another racially divided city but one whose openness to breaking free from the confines of defining another by the color of their skin is far more progressive than my birth place.

But living in a neighborhood and being educated at a school where I was the minority for a change serves as my foundational empathy for the plight of others who are struggling. When I look back at my volunteer work as a FEMA Appeals Coordinator for Hurricane Katrina, my two years spent at the local Latino Health Clinic for migrant workers, or my chosen career path as a Special Education Advocate, it’s no wonder that I gravitated towards helping those who others turn away from because I, too, know what it feels like to be a minority. The only difference is that I am white and because so, I have a privilege that no other minorities will receive.

Let’s change that.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She dedicates this week’s blog to her fellow St. Louisians in hopes that we all begin to take a look at our part in the struggle that is Ferguson, Missouri.

Kids React to a Multiracial Family Model

In their YouTube series, Kids React, The Fine Brothers have enlisted the help of youngsters to illustrate how times are a changin’ and controversial topics like racism are viewed through a new generation’s lens.

It’s hard to fathom that it’s only been 47 years since our court system finally recognized interracial marriage. (Loving v Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)) Before then, it was illegal to marry someone of a different race in certain states. That’s cray-cray for sure!  Now with the recent ruling striking down DOMA that older generation is forced to morph their divisive perception into acceptance.

Take a look at these spot-on reactions to the now famous Cheerios commercial, which features a multiracial family and sparked a nation-wide controversy over what a family should look like in America today.

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder of Terry Tutors and Creator of the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com

Miss America’s Dream and Its Positive Influence on Young Girls

Miss AmericaI have very vivid childhood memories of my mom, my two younger sisters, and myself sitting around in our pajamas watching the Miss America Pageant year after year. We watched that Pageant religiously throughout the ’80s and ’90s, even holding our own pageants complete with makeshift tiaras and sashes in the basement of our Bel-Ridge house. We coveted that crown and thought, perhaps, one day it would be us on that stage, crying and waving as we walked down the runway to the famous song: “There she is… Miss America…” Alas, my dream of becoming Miss America was not meant to be but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the positive influence it has on helping young girls realize their own dreams.

Suffrage & The Miss America Pageant

The Miss America pageant began in 1921, just a couple of years after Congress passed the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Since then, Miss America has been a symbol of beauty, grace, and oftentimes politics–a symbol of the times, really. Our new Miss America, like our re-elected President, is a reflection of an America longing for role models who look different than our Founding Fathers.

The Racial & Ethnic Diversity of the Miss America Pageant Throughout The Years:

  • 1984: Vanessa Williams, succeeded by Suzette Charles, First and Second African-American Miss Americas
  • 1990: Debbye Turner, Third African-American Miss America
  • 1991: Marjorie Judith Vincent, Fourth African-American Miss America
  • 1994: Kimberly Aiken, Fifth African-American Miss America
  • 2001: Angela Perez Barquio, First Asian-American Miss America
  • 2003: Erika Harold, Sixth African-American Miss America
  • 2004: Erica Dunlap, Seventh African-American Miss America
  • 2013: Nina Davuluri, First Indian-American Miss America: Check out her eloquent response to those who are upset by her win: Miss America’s Nina Davuluri talks about being a new face of the Miss America organization

Contestant Diversity & Acceptance

The Miss America Pageant and its public have openly accepted many types of diversity over the years, albeit not enough by any standard. For example, Alexis Wineman, Miss Montana 2012, competed in the 92nd annual Miss America Pageant. She was the first contestant diagnosed with Autism. During the latest Miss America Pageant, Miss Iowa, a 23-year-old vocalist born without her left forearm, competed for the crown as well. In 1995, Heather Whitestone, became the First Deaf Miss America. So I find it surprising that there are a group of outspoken Americans who are angry about the crowning of the new Miss America. Their vitriolic comments lead me to believe that it’s not a concern over accepting diversity but a concern over accepting racial diversity. That’s a sad realization in the year 2013 but a realization nonetheless–one that we should be aware of, acknowledge, but not accept as a guide for our moral compass. What they fail to understand, however, is that by discrediting the new Miss America they are directly contributing to our children’s lack of self-esteem and identity, especially that of young girls.

Young Women, Self-Esteem, and Identity

It’s no secret that our society still struggles with race, culture, and what it means to be diverse. Much of that burden falls on the shoulders of mothers, teaching and encouraging their children to reach for the stars in true American spirit but with gentle caution about the reality of how race effects the reality of their dream. I imagine that mothers to young girls take extra care to ensure their daughters don’t fall victim to self-esteem and identity issues, especially when it comes to race. So when girls are able to see an older, successful version of themselves it makes their dreams feel that much closer and the color of their skin becomes secondary. As such, when the new Miss America, an Indian-American, was crowned a winner I bet there were suddenly a whole lot more little girls who realized that their dreams of becoming a scientist, doctor, or even Miss America were not so far-fetched after all.

Thank you Miss America for helping the next generation of young women rise above the naysayers to realize their own dreams, just like you did.

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Christine Terry, B.A., J.D., is the Founder & Owner of Terry Tutors, a Private Tutoring, Family Coaching, and Education Advocacy service dedicated to supporting the whole student. She writes this blog as an effort to help Moms & Dads Navigate Generation Z, Honestly. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com