Written by: Sara Kugler
Editor’s note: Each year the AJC Project holds a youth essay competition for students in Orleans Parish. The theme of the competition changes each year and asks students to reflect on a historic or current topic. This year is the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of Tulane University. Students were asked to respond to the question: What do you think is valuable about having integrated classrooms and learning environments? Below are the full essays from our first place winners, and essay excerpts from our second place winners. Winners were announced on March 14th at the second annual Anna Julia Cooper lecture on gender, race and politics.
6th Grade Category
1st Place: Dorothy Corrigan, “Integration: Why It Is Beneficial”
How would it feel if you were to walk for long miles even though there was a better school nearby? The reason was because the school was for whites only. This is how it was for Linda Brown. One day, her father decided to do something about this discrimination.
Fifty years ago, in the case known as Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled segregation illegal. After this ruling, schools became integrated, and no discrimination of race, religion, or nationality was allowed. Today, public schools include all races. Having an integrated classroom has many values such as you become more accepting of others, and no one will be denied of having the same opportunities of education as everyone else.
By being in an integrated classroom, you can learn and appreciate other people. When schools were segregated, people didn’t have the chances to get to know people who might’ve not looked like them, but really weren’t that different from them. In the book, Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges, there is a picture of Ruby with the other white first graders that had come back to school that year. In the photograph, Ruby and the four children look happy and like they were all friends. This shows that by being with each other in the same classroom, the children saw Ruby as the same as one of them. I know this because in the photo they are all hugging. In my classroom, there are lots of different people. I’m Chinese; there are African-Americans; there is a boy from India, there are people that are Hispanic, whites, and probably even more. By being in a class together, you learn more about them and even become friends. I am friends with people that might look different from me or come from different places, but they are still my very best friends.
Everyone will also have equal opportunities and have access to equal education. In the case Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Supreme Court decided that public facilities could be “separate, but equal”. In the south the buildings were separate, but not equal. Ruby Bridges stated, “My segregated school was fairly far from my house. . . . .” Then, she talked about the white schools and how if she went, she would “. . . . receive better education. . . .” This means that black schools just weren’t as good as white schools. In the novel, Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, there was a chapter in which the black kids received old, tattered, torn textbooks from the white school. From these two pieces of evidence, you can see that African-Americans didn’t get equal education. When children are taught together though, they will all have the same opportunities to learn.
Becoming more accepting of others and everyone getting the same education, are two of the many values of having an integrated classroom. We’ve come a long way to get equal rights for everyone, and the first step was to integrate. By doing this, you learn that the people you might’ve hurt before for being different, are now your friends. Plus, no one will be denied of their education or anything else for that matter. As Brown vs. Board of Education stated, “Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal education opportunities?. . . To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” Even though there might be a little more we can do about the prejudice, we are taking big steps in the right direction.
2nd place: Eva Coman, “Integration”
“With integrated classrooms, everyone will feel included and have equal opportunities to learn and succeed. School is the #1 place where children learn, and without adequate learning materials, students will not be able to function properly in the outside world.”
7th & 8th Grade Category:
1st place: Julia Simon
Schools in America have gone through a long journey when it comes to racial segregation. From the mid-1800s until the mid-1900s, there were separate schools for white kids and black kids. Some students didn’t receive many opportunities because of their skin color, and their education wasn’t as beneficial as the education a white student would get. Black school conditions were mediocre considering that the classes didn’t have good facilities and few materials including books. However, when educational policies began to change due to trials like Brown vs. Board of Education, lawsuits against segregation, or students integrating schools like Ruby Bridges and the Little Rock Nine, all kinds of students were allowed to go to the same school. I attend a school with integrated classrooms and I believe that learning in an integrated environment is a valuable experience for three reasons: access to diverse cultures, learning to show empathy, and appreciation for others.
Integrated classrooms introduce students to different cultures, teach students to show empathy, and students learn to have appreciation for others. In my school career, I have been in many schools. For example, one had mostly black kids and another hadwith a majority of white kids. I currently attend a school with integrated classes. I have made Jewish, Asian, Caucasian, Irish, Muslim, and African American friends and learned about all kinds of different world cultures. At schools with all white or black children, the majority of the students all had the same basic lifestyle. I could appreciate the culture those schools had, but learning about many more cultures is not something those students have access to. Integrated classes have taught me about Chinese New Year, Yom Kippur, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and St. Stephen’s Day. Not only are the cultures diverse, but integrated classrooms have students from different economic classes, so you learn about all kinds of people and experience different personalities. The experience of meeting people many diverse cultures makes integrated classes valuable.
Another valuable aspect of integrated learning environments is learning empathy. Since all of my friends are different, they all have different problems and because of that, we have found that it is easy to talk to each other. In that way, we have learned how to feel sympathetic for others and sometimes empathy can come through, too. At my previous schools, everyone had the same problems and for that reason, empathy and sympathy seemed like a sarcastic act since it felt like a joke to help one person who had the same problem as everyone else. So learning empathy there was not exactly an option. But an integrated classroom teaches you empathy in the best way possible, through others’ problems, and gives you a skill you can use in life in the future.
And another reason integrated classrooms create a valuable experience for students is because it teaches you to appreciate others. When I attended a majority black school, the learning resources were definitely better than schools during the times of segregation, but the shadow of segregation hung over the school since the students never experienced learning other cultures, and it truly felt like we were separated. Students there couldn’t appreciate the problems of another race since they were separated from them. In an integrated classroom, you get to see different issues from many points of view based on experiences and you learn to appreciate how other people see things. If there aren’t other people that you can learn about, then it is harder to truly appreciate someone else later. The experience of appreciating others and their opinions at a young age prepares students for the future when we have to work with other people and we will already be able to appreciate their outlook on something, so working as a team will be an easier experience, and being able to listen and appreciate other opinions prepares us for leadership. Appreciation for others is a valuable lesson to learn from integrated classrooms that can prepare us for the future.
My experience in an integrated classroom has truly affected me as a person. Before, I was an ignorant girl without a single care for others, but meeting all kinds of people and learning to accept them has made me more understanding and empathetic towards others, qualities that will help me in the future. The fight for integrated school was a rough one and I believe it led to a great outcome, creating better people that will carry the values of integrated schools with them into the future.
2nd place: Ari Broussard
“Integration in classrooms is an important thing. It is not just important, but it is a necessity. We could not grow as a community or even as a country if we didn’t evolve to accept other races. Separating students is not healthy and it teaches them to always be divided, that separation is good. In the world today you can see that the integration of schools has led to a more successful world.”
High School Category:
1st place: Seandre’ Napoleon
Centuries ago, the bitter roots of segregation paralyzed a nation, as African Americans were denied equal access to a quality education, voting rights, and acceptance into the political arena like their White counterparts. All across America, African Americans fought tirelessly to integrate public school systems and public buses, end segregated seating in theaters and restaurants, and desegregate colleges and universities in the Deep South. In the education arena, laws were purposely applied to ensure that African American students received substandard books, inferior school buildings, and very little resources to thrive academically. However, their White counterparts were the recipients of superior resources, and high quality schools. But, in spite of the tragic discriminations forever intertwining in the past, there were a large number of forerunners that fought relentlessly to ensure that the unjust draconian laws were not passed down to their children’s children. Therefore, they picketed, and integrated schools in Little Rock Arkansas, Montgomery Alabama, and challenged the laws on the very campuses of Tulane University in New Orleans Louisiana. Over fifty years ago, Mrs. Pearlie Elloie, and Mrs. Barbara Guillory Thompson were two majestic leaders that were influential in transforming the discriminatory practices of the past on the campus of Tulane University. Today, African Americans will have the benefit of attending Tulane University, because they were unafraid to illuminate their candle in the dark to light a brighter future for generations to come.
The opportunity of attending an integrated classroom would not have been possible if it were not for the activism and fervent social justice movements of dynamic leaders of the past. In the 21st century, an integrated classroom and learning environment provides students with an avenue to appreciate the unique and stimulating portrait of another student’s culture. The beauty of diversity is ever present in an integrated classroom where the learning environment encourages critical thinking skills, and nurtures logical reasoning in the History and English classroom. Students have the opportunity to respectfully dialogue with their classmates and develop an everlasting friendship beyond the classroom when they have the privilege to work on group projects and assignments together. In addition, the artistic expression of the arts, music, literature, history, customs, and traditions of other classmates are willfully embraced when students have the advantage of sitting in a classroom with students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnic groups and other cultures. The learning environment and educational gaps in the education arena closes, because students have the ability to gain knowledge from a group of students that share various experiences, and are able to study on a particular core curriculum. Therefore, learning is balanced, and students all have the chance and opportunity to compete equally.
Collectively, integration provides our humanity with an inspirational diverse perspective in society, in the workforce, and allows us to build relationships with students and other nations globally. We grow intellectually, and spiritually, because we produce innovate ideas, and build a stronger economic climate. Classrooms and individuals are strengthen positively when we are afforded the opportunity to experience, value, and welcome the enriching traditions, backgrounds, and new cultural perspective from someone that doesn’t share in a skin color, but in the core belief of humanity. Communities strengthen, because integration fosters acceptance and unity in the neighborhoods. Together, we learn how to deflate stereotypes, and not align ourselves with misconceptions about another race. We learn from the experience that we are all citizens, making great strides to unify and build a stronger world for our children. More importantly, integration enriches the soul and inner beauty of an individual directly and indirectly. Together, we all benefit because when we interlock our views, and are openly willing to share in the cultural beliefs of someone that doesn’t share our lineage or experience. Together, we rise socially and economically. Together, friendships are cultivated, and respect for our fellow man is admired. Together, in an integrated classroom, and learning environment, decades of injustices wash away when we are allowed the opportunity to link our hands together in a collective fist, and not judge a person by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
2nd place: Ellen McCusker
“In all honesty, who is to say that if that barrier was never broken and schools were never integrated, we would not be in the same situations we were in over fifty years ago? Culture, knowledge, and life-long friendships is exactly why integrated learning environments are valuable to me. I have formed bonds with so many people of some many different backgrounds that no one could ever put a price on. I have read life changing poetry by beautiful, strong men and women such as Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes. And I have formed my own culture by learning about all of my friend’s backgrounds and traditions that formed their person. Integrated schools make us more knowledgeable and open to the world around us.”