Thursday, October 26, 2006

Not sure why I was so struck by this sign in the Central High School cafeteria ... .

but I found myself wondering how those prices would compare with those in our West County school district?

Central High (in comparison) appears so well maintained, so proud, so beautiful architecturally that it's hard not to assume that it is also the wealthy school home of well-to-do children. Not so. Its student body is 50% black, we were told, and by the looks of this list of prices -- just kids of ordinary means. By contrast, the highschools in our district resemble windowless prisons, with iron gates and security guards and metal detectors and surveillance cameras (in some cases), and the ambiance always of guardedness at all times. None of those things were visible at Central. The contrasts are stunning. I'd forgotten what schools were like in my youth, and what they're still like in the more affluent suburbs of the Bay Area.

I found myself wondering if the fact that Little Rock has found reconcilation by clearly marking the place of shame in its history and owning its past appropriately? It was wracked by horror and outrage almost fifty years ago, but (as in South Africa) faced its problems viscerally, found re-direction through strong leadership over the next decades, and moved on. That beautiful bronze monument to those children on the Capitol mall; the re-naming of streets to incorporate its newfound heroes; radical changes in unfair civic policies, all served to emancipate Little Rock from its racist past. That generation of elders created a better more accepting world for their young.

Maybe the lesson for us was that I now see a clear reason for the creation of that monument to the African American homefront worker in troubled battlescarred Fourth Street Park in the crime-infested Iron Triangle in Richmond. It would be the place marker and could allow for the belated facing-up-to and reconciliation that has never occurred here in the place where the Civil Rights struggles of the Sixties may have been born. Maybe that's what is needed.

We, as a nation, have never really come to terms with slavery and its centuries-old scars that have now claimed yet another generation that's doomed to continuing hopelessness and degradation. This may be what Little Rock discovered in that place in 1957 when it "touched bottom" on the site of Central High leaving nowhere to go but up. Maybe the violent street deaths we're experiencing in this city -- currently rated the most dangerous in the state by far -- is that bottom place for us. Maybe we can find a way to rekindle the hopes and dreams of the grandparents who settled here during World War II who might then transmit some of that to the young.

Maybe we can do that together as the kids at Central High are doing through their Memories Project online -- by bringing that panel of high school students from Little Rock to show our youngsters how that's done. I'm sensing some interest among members of our staff to do just that.

I believe that we've already begun that process through Donna Graves (historian) and her "Memories of Macdonald" project that is bringing some of that to the surface even as we speak. That work is being done under the auspices of the city's redevelopment agency, the Richmond Museum, the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, and the Rosie the Riveter World War II/Home Front National Historical Park.

It's a beginning. Maybe even the beginning.

We'll see.

Photos: Sign posted in Central High's cafeteria. The photo to the right is of the reflecting pool at the entrance of the school. It was recently restored to its original beauty by the National Park Service. There is a fountain at the lower center that will be restored soon.

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