Editorial | By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder & editor-in-chief
Olecia James did everything right in high school.
She was a tennis and basketball player.
She was the homecoming queen.
She was academically savvy and took advanced courses.
It was, however, James’ non-whiteness that would cost her the class title of salutatorian at Cleveland Central High School in Cleveland, Mississippi last spring.
She sat in tears as her name wasn’t called as the class salutatorian, which she had anticipated. Instead, her honor was stolen and given to a white male student.
“I was so heartbroken. I was hurt. I had a blank stare at one moment, and I just cried,” she said. “I wouldn’t know how it felt because it wasn’t mine to have, but when I knew what I had and should’ve had, it hurt. It just hurt a different way,” the teen said.
The school district chose not to award James the title for fear white families would unenroll their kids and send them to another school.
Her International Baccalaureate courses should have sealed her title as class salutatorian, but James discovered that her GPA was strategically and unfairly lowered by school staff.
Before James’ graduation, her grandmother and father met with the school on several occasions to inquire about the inaccuracy of her GPA, but the school officials didn’t give them a clear explanation as to what occurred.
Her GPA should have been a 4.41 on the day of her graduation, but it was lower than a 4.34.
A White male student who had a 4.34 GPA accepted the title of salutatorian.
School Board Members would later issue an apology only after the graduation ceremony had ended.
As a result of the school’s actions, James lost her salutatorian scholarship to Ole Miss.
Her situation is precisely why school choice is quickly becoming the black choice. Both institutions and every white person, be they school official or parents, failed James during this process.
They almost got away with it.
Her family filed a lawsuit against the school district for their racist actions.
This isn’t the school district’s first time dabbling in white supremacy behavior. During the school’s first graduating class, a black student was forced to share her valedictorian honor with a white student who had a lower GPA.
So, why so much tension at this school?
Cleveland Central High School was forced to integrate in 2017.
You heard that right — 2017.
Racism is still real, people.
East Side High School and Cleveland High School became one school.
White families pushed back on the consolidation.
There are still white Americans that don’t want their white kids attending schools with black kids. The newly consolidated school has already experienced a 3-percent decline in its white student population since the 2017 consolidation.
The mere fact that the leadership at the school would deny these hard-working black students their moments just to appease their white families is horrifyingly troubling.
Was there not one righteous white person to advocate for these black girls?
We would be foolish to believe this doesn’t happen in other schools and in classrooms across the US in order to maintain some level of the status quo of white superiority in America’s public schools.
This is the reason why more black people are needed in positions of leadership and why school choice/parent choice/ black choice is so important to people of color.
I am tired of asking white folks for permission just so black people can have a seat at the table and just so we can be seen, heard, and honored.
Furthermore, I’m tired of praying for white people to do the right thing. My ancestors probably prayed for justice a thousand times only to be muted by the whip.
Where in the hell were the Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks celebrating-white folks at James’ school when she got denied the honor of class salutatorian?
They watched this little black intellectual-queen sit in tears as her white male classmate was made to steal her moment.
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Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Black Wall Street Times and an Editorial Community Advisory Board member at the Tulsa World. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and earned a second degree in political science from Oklahoma State University. Nehemiah is a rising voice in America and an emerging leader in the educational justice and equity movement. He’s a motivational speaker and presented a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa in the spring of 2018. Nehemiah is also a blogger at Education Post. He has been featured on NBC, Blavity, and Tulsa People.