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Brown as Personal Narrative

by Black Issues

Brown as Personal Narrative

By Walter Clark

Iam bi-racial. My mother is Japanese, and my father is African American. My parents in effect were equal opportunity daters. I grew up in my father’s old neighborhood in New York’s South Bronx. He grew up in a pre-Brown era. The South Bronx was predominantly Black and Hispanic, and the education and housing conditions were not equal to other areas that were predominately White. 

The Brown v. Board of Education decision was not specifically focused on postsecondary education; however, it helped facilitate minority admissions into predominantly White colleges and universities from the late 1950s onward. The Brown decision made many colleges and universities question whether diversity is a legitimate educational goal in college admissions. Because Springfield College and two state universities answered this question in the affirmative, I was able to enroll and complete my bachelor’s degree in three years, continue on to the University of Connecticut where I earned a master’s degree in social work, and finally to the University of Iowa where I graduated with a law degree.

My experiences attending predominantly White colleges were mixed. On the one hand, I was surprised at the number of Whites who shared the risk and protested against racial inequality. On the other hand, there were White students and teachers that did not find comfort in sharing a classroom with people different from them and they would let you know. It was awkward and painful moving between the South Bronx, where several different minority groups lived in poverty and relative harmony, to a college campus with upper middle-class White students who enjoyed a lifestyle I found attractive but strange.

I remember returning to college after my first school break during my freshman year. I was sitting on the bus recalling the seemingly irremovable stench left by the homeless in the hallways of the tenement apartment building where my family lived. I remembered the hustle, bustle and lurking dangers of the streets in the South Bronx. Then as the bus passed through suburban Connecticut and Massachusetts, I saw private homes and picket fences, grass and trees, and then it suddenly hit me that there were indeed two Americas. One America was consistently poor and often inhabited by large percentages of darker skinned people, and one America more economically prosperous, inhabited by mostly Whites. I was living in both worlds. Attending a predominantly White college in an upper middle-class community proved to shape the experiences I needed in order to understand that reality of societal difference. It motivated me to succeed academically.

Brown pushed open the doors of opportunity for citizenship and democratic rights that helped launch the Black social and political movements of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. It helped facilitate a sense of pride and unity among minority groups. We knew we had a right to be in college and to be treated with dignity.

Today, there are many more minorities who have benefited from a college education than in the past, and diversity is intrinsic to almost every mission statement in higher education. But tomorrow if we are to be truly diversified in higher education, we must understand that diversity is simply liberty and justice for all. It’s a goal worth making sacrifices for. 

Clark is director of admissions at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Conn.

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