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What Has Brown Done For You?

high school, Brown, Board of Education, basketball, inner-city, race, segregation, integration, inequality, racism

Being the publisher of a high school basketball publication in Michigan, I, needless to say, spend a lot of time in schools all over the state. This past weekend I had the opportunity to cover the Martin Luther King, Jr. Basketball Classic at Pontiac Northern High School in Pontiac, Michigan. I used this opportunity to delve into the topic of racial inequality in education.

This tournament proved to be a stark reminder of just how far we've come since the death of the greatest civil rights leader in American history--not far at all. The "black schools" are back to being "black schools" and the "white schools" are back to being "white schools." I see evidence of this everywhere I go.

The Supreme Court told Americans in 1954 that segregation in schools was unconstitutional and that integration would begin with "all deliberate speed." Sadly, our high schools are more segregated now than they've ever been. What many people do not know is that a recent study found that Michigan is the most segregated state in the United States. Amazingly, my state re-segregated faster than it integrated.

How much longer are we going to tolerate this? Does the equal protection clause of the Constitution still exist where the education of our kids is concerned? It's high time we revisited the landmark ruling in the Brown case to rediscover what it really was all about.

People should not have to go through airport security to attend high school basketball games. (You think I am exaggerating, but Pontiac Northern has metal detectors and an x-ray machine.) It's a difficult tradeoff. On the one hand, I appreciate the feeling of being secure at an event; but, it also gives me a sick feeling inside knowing that it is, apparently, necessary.

There have been numerous studies—even before the ruling in Brown—that speak to the vital role that environment plays in the education of students. And yet, our government and our citizens have allowed the level of inequality in our schools to reach an all-time high. We have, right here in my home county, a school district that is the poorest in the state—Beecher. In the very same county lies Grand Blanc High School. This is the school that spent a large chunk of its 90-plus million dollar millage on a state-of-the-art gymnasium. The students attending these two schools are separated by a mere fifteen miles, but they really could not be any farther apart.

At Pontiac Northern, and virtually every other inner-city school I’ve been to in the past few years, the building has the appearance and feel of a prison. The bathroom stalls are without doors, the pipes are leaking, glass windows are broken, and the walls are covered in graffiti. I can recall a couple years ago when Flint Northwestern High School did not even have the funds to fix their own aging scoreboard. They were forced to resort to a portable one that sat on the floor.

Another sad reminder of just how unequal our schools could have been easily overlooked by many in attendance on Saturday at Pontiac Northern. The basketball players from Detroit Osborn High School, a school right in the heart of north Detroit, were wearing different shorts and jerseys. In other words, they were wearing home gym shorts with away jerseys. This only happens when schools do not have the resources to purchase for players both pairs of shorts. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets of Detroit Country Day—a private school that is actually located in Birmingham, Michigan—took the floor in the most expensive-looking warm-up suits I’ve seen at the high school level. They had their name and the name of their school sewn into the jacket and the pants. And while this might seem a little petty to point out, we should not understate the importance of symbolism.

Detroit Osborn is just one in a litany of inner-city schools in Michigan that is struggling. Just a week prior to this tournament, there was a shooting at Detroit Osborn. Only a scant few miles away at Detroit Martin Luther King Jr. High School, two students were stabbed during a fight. How can we, as thoughtful human beings, continue to ignore the plight of our inner-cities? The great majority of students in our inner cities do not have the opportunities to succeed that their counterparts in the suburbs do.

The affluent and the burgeoning middle class in this country reacted to the 1954 ruling in Brown quite succinctly—they left the cities and the schools. The majority, for all intents and purposes, overruled the Warren Court’s ruling and re-segregated our schools and our communities. We are now reaping a whirlwind for the sin of inequality in education—and in society as a whole.

Schools should be the starting point for reclaiming some semblance of equality in this country—or, perhaps more correctly, claiming it. Our children begin to take hold of their identity and the identities of others at a very young age and we must do everything we can give them a broader understanding of our plenary world. In order for this to occur they must be fully immersed in a diverse society. The only problem is that we haven’t truly constituted one. In 1954 we tried and failed.
Published: 2006-04-11
Author: Jared Field

About the author or the publisher
I am a graduate student with a BA in Political Science. I am currently about halfway done with my MA degree in Social Science at the University of Michigan in Flint. In my free time, I operate a web-based basketball publication in my home state for which I have received press credentials.

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