Thursday, December 01, 2005

How a 16-Year-Old Black Girl Liberated America and Built the ZenFo Pro in the Process

NOTE - Some readers may find the language and content of this post offensive. This is my contribution for Blog Against Racism Day.

Many thanks to Coop over at Wonderland or Not for the head's up.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Your school is full of niggers, retards, and white trash.
Those words will remain burned into my soul, buried deep in my heart, until the day I die.

A friendly game of two-on-two basketball between preteen boys in rural Virginia. I threw an elbow, finally, at a tall lanky kid who'd been throwing elbows all afternoon. And he lashed out, verbally, completely unaware of the impact his words would have on me decades later.

Niggers, retards, and white trash....

1988, summer of Bush and Dukakis, the Dodgers winning a World Series, the Olympics, and so forth.

The kid who spoke those words went to a local private school, formerly known as Prince Edward Academy - an institution created in the 1950s to continue the tradition of "Separate But Equal" education long after the act had been criminalized by the U.S. Supreme Court.

I was a middle school student at the local public school district, created in the 1960s for a quite different purpose.

His parents were fine, upstanding members of the community. My parents ran a construction company.

This is the story of why I can never, ever forget where I come from, the story of how a black teenage protester helped make me who I am, simply by standing up for what was right.

Some people idealize rock stars growing up. Some spend their teenage years worshipping actors.

I worshipped a 16-year-old black girl who changed America forever, a teenage firebrand who refused to accept Jim Crow education and organized probably the most important high school student protest in U.S. history.

on April 23, 1951, Barbara Johns and several other students at the all-black R.R. Moton High School managed to trick their principal into leaving campus; then the group forged notes from the principal to teachers, instructing them to bring their classes to the auditorium.

When the school's students showed up, Barbara Johns took the stage and asked the teachers to leave the room; according to legend, most did as they were told.

Though no one remembers what she said exactly, Johns somehow persuaded more than 450 students to strike in protest of the school's pitiful conditions.

The school did not have a gymansium, cafeteria, nor did it have many other amenities. Due to overcrowding, some students attended "class" in an immobile school bus parked outside. The school's requests for additional funds were denied by the all-white school board.

Thus a two-week protest began. And that protest led to a lawsuit against Prince Edward County's school board. And Dorothy E. Davis, et al. versus County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia eventually became one of five cases encompassed in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.

My high school alma mater - Prince Edward County High School - was created as a direct result of a separate Supreme Court ruling a decade later.

Of all the degrees, honors, and awards I've ever received, I hold my PECHS diploma dearest to my soul. There are not too many people who can honestly say the records of their school's birth are housed in the National Archives, or that Robert Kennedy personally advocated for its creation.

I owe every piece of intellectual capital I've ever earned to Barbara Johns.

And I will never forget.

Hopefully, you won't either.

Your school is full of niggers, retards, and white trash.

Yes, it is. And I'm extremely proud of that fact these days.

I wonder what that kid who said those words is doing now? Is he a doctor or a lawyer? Is he some suit and a tie out there? Has he changed his ways, or does he wrap his slurs in the flag with camouflaged bigotry in the form of "Those black welfare mothers...," "Those illegal aliens keep taking our jobs...," or "those people just don't know how to work...?"

I'd like to thank him, one day, for teaching me what it means to be proud of where one comes from and the path that leads to where one wants to go.

I grew up in a world full of niggers, retards, white trash, chinks, nips, beaners, spearchuckers, rednecks, peckerwoods, fags, dykes, homos, kikes, heebs, bleach babies, tar babies, crackers, coons, greasers, spics, queers, snowflakes, trailer trash, mongoloids, yips, and towelheads.

And they are all part of my family, forever. They helped build me up from childhood and I owe them my very soul. That kind of bond can never be broken - not even by the hateful words of some kid on a basketball court.

I am one of the many children of Barbara Johns and her fellow protesters. And we are all a thousand times stronger than Jim Crow could ever have been.

My name is Jason, and I'm a proud graduate of Prince Edward County High School, Class of 1996.

I'm here today because, long ago, a 16-year-old girl had the courage to help set me free.


Alice: In Wonderland or Not said...

Jason, that was excellent.

That why you're the Zenpro - and I'm not.

I don't think the post needs any elaboration.

pia said...

I second Cooper/Alice

For once I can't think of anything to say

Critical Darling said...

I really enjoyed that. Thanks.

renee said...

i had no idea that it was blog against racism day. i missed it.

i liked your post, and it seems like your high school experience was a valuable one (i'm glad someone's was!)

G said...

Rock on, brother. That's an amazing tale. Thanks for sharing it. Tell it as often as you can to whomever you can - this is how change is inspired, my man - one word at a time.

I missed B.A.R.D. also, but the way I see it, every day ought to be Blog Against Racism Day ... and judging by my reading, I'd say that in fact it is. :-)

Peace bro,

Anonymous said...

Hey i just wanted to say thanks for being a gentleman with my friend tonight. I didn't realize you were so popular i saw you uptown with a some girl this afteroon (did the zenfor pro actually get a cute girl or what? 8-), then you helped my friend out on walnut a few hours ago. you are like so my hero and probably the sweetest guy in oxford. we need more gentlemean in this fucking town...I hope youre hand is okay because my friend's ex has a hard head lol.
Sorry i' drunk so hopefully i'm doing this right. i read this when i got home and you made my roommate and i cry. you are the sexiest man in oxford and i'm not hitting on you because my boyfriend would kill me.

Girl on the Blog said...


Curious about your night though... according to anonymous... you had a wild night and were ohhhh so sweet! :)

The ZenFo Pro said...

Wow, two short relies from two master bloggers....I'm now completely humbled :) Thanks so much. That was the hardest post I've ever had to write-even talking about the Prince Edward County movement usually leaves me balling like a baby. This time was no different.

Hey, thanks!

Lol...I wish my actual time in high school had been more productive and, well, I'd been less of a damned hoodlum. Its funny, took the still-majority white school board nearly 20 years to even formally reflect the Moton School Strike in the high school curriculum. I actually frst learned about the true weight of the events in 1951 from a Black Studies prof in Colorado, who actually asked me to speak to one of his classes about my experiences growing up.

You're right, dude. Every day should not only be BARD, but Blog Against Tyranny Day. Its going to take a ton of ideas to bring down the Man.

Drunk girl in the black boots and tannish skirt, right? LOL...probably not a good practice to post to a blog while intoxicated. Glad to know you guys made it home okay. How did you not freeze to death?

The girl you saw me with was actually a fellow Oxblogger; we've been trying to find time to go out on the town for about five months now. And I'm 110% sure you calling her cute will probably make her day. (To the OxBlogger in question - lol - see, no need for self-esteem issues ;)

As for your friend's ex...please don't get the impression that I normally jump into the middle of domestic disputes and she probably needs to reevaluate the kind of guys she dates, including the chickenshit alcoholic who stood there giggling like an idiot while somebody's trying to manhandle his date. No joke, chica; I just wanted to grab a drink at Mac and Joes on the way home; not a hero, sweet, or a gentleman. Actually, it was my forearm and knee - not even a bruise.

Will post about last night later today. Oxford has its good (people like the local underground arts scene and socially-conscious bloggers), its bad (binge-drinking Miami students without any sense of social responsibility), and its ugly (I ended up staying at this local bar until well past last call helping a bouncer clean up after a patron threw up and blacked out and soothing the nerves of a rattled bartender.)

Ahhh...the last weekend before finals in Oxford-bloody-Ohio...

Heylel Ben-Shachar said...

Holy smack! A white dude's 'hero' is a black teenage chick who was partially responsible for eroding white privilege and messing up --probably beyond repair-- the US educational system. What is the world coming to?

FYI: the multiculturalist egalitarianism you seem to promote simply means (and will mean) more misery for everyone. It doesn't empower; it just lowers the baseline. By 2040 or so, we'll all be living in the third world.

Blog against racism? Gimme a break! Why don't you do something useful for a change, and blog for secularism, science, technology, progress, and good old common sense, eh?

The ZenFo Pro said...

Well, "white privilege" is something that needs to be dismantled and I see the opportunity for more hope than your concept of misery. I disagree wholeheartedly that desegregation has somehow damaged the U.S. education system - I'd say white resistance has done more damage.

Thanks for sharing your opinion, but I'm not getting pulled into the "yeah...but if you blogged about this..." rhetoric. If you don't like what I post, please feel free to start your own blog. If you don't like the whole "Blog Against Racism" concept, well, nobody's holding a gun to your head forcing you to read about it.

Holly Higgins Wilcher said...

Wow. I was doing some research on Prince Edward for a piece I am writing and came across your blog. Jason, this is great. Thank you for sharing this with everyone.

I am not sure if you remember me or not...I was Higgins then.

Clas of 1996