By: Lamarrius Danley
To begin, I did not start at L.R Jackson. I began school at Mildred Jackson in a smaller town: Hughes, Arkansas. I moved to West Memphis after kindergarten. For those not from West Memphis, the city is majority black, yet even with a good mixture of black and white, there is a clear divide in the town. For example, one side is mostly black, and the other is the latter. Another example is we have a Black Big-star ( grocery store) and a White Big-star to give you a perception of how the town is set up. It is also essential to announce that Jackson elementary is along the area where there are Public Housing Authorities. I am not saying that to belittle anyone. As it becomes vital to my story as it shows how one associates financial situations with a lack of intelligence and doubts about black educational spaces.
As a child, I did not think much of the dynamic of the town until a program called gifted and talented that included certain intellectual students from each elementary. As I went through the program, I could tell the differences in not only the wealth disparity but just the social aspect and how people viewed each participant from the schools. We eventually had to do projects with models, and as you can guess, those from schools like Richland and Bragg were thriving with successful models while I did not have the funds to do as much. However, I persevered and still obtained one of the medals given to the winners, but it was my first awareness of working twice as hard to be recognized.
Eventually, the state tried to take over L.R Jackson, yet they did not take into account funding, accessibility, resources, or time. It seems as if they assumed we were incompetent, or the teachers were not trying hard enough. This just shows how the state has a lack of understanding of the school itself and how their solution was nothing but an invasion of White officials with no idea of the social dynamic or what was going on. Yet as time moved on, I eventually moved to the other side of town because my mother did not want me on that side of town any longer. I went to Faulk Elementary. Although I was okay with the school switch, it did rub me the wrong way when teachers began checking my grades at Jackson and even going as far as asking me to compare the schools and chose which one is better. I later realized that they assumed that the kids from across the tracks were inferior to those on the other, and I was a product of defying their assumptions as I eventually outranked everyone in my class. Still, This type of judgment and misinterpretation has created a method of underestimating black educational spaces in West Memphis.
After sixth grade, many people told me that the best junior high school was West Junior High(Despite it having more African Americans recently, it is still a majority white school) than Wonder Junior High( the historical Black High School and turned Junior high). Although I thought this was true as a child, I decided to still go to Wonder because I did not want to leave my friends. Wonder was the polar opposite of West as we had very strict rules pertaining to dress code, and corporal punishment was often the solution. At the time, I was jealous of how easy-going West was; however, looking back, I understand that looking presentable is necessary, yet still, corporal punishment wasn’t ideal but was the best solution rooted in the Black Community. It also made black students feel like they were in prison and could not be trusted with mere responsibility. Despite the downsides, Wonder introduced me to the HBCU culture through Act Prep ( the only program of its kind in West Memphis) with visits to the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Tennesse State, and Howard University. It was then when I understood where I wanted to get my college education.
I decided to subset this section because I genuinely saw the disparities and differences in the schooling system. For starters, Wonder’s music program was very underfunded with instruments rotting with age and lack of new instruments coming in. Along with this, many in the community could not afford to rent nor buy one. This caused scarcity in the number of musicians wonder had. Another one of the issues was that compared to West, the high school band officials did not visit us as often as they did them. This lowered our help and overall improvement. Along with this, West was thriving with musical resources compared to us and had several opportunities that we did not. This leads me to become in competition and prove my self worth by “beating” West Musicians and hopefully open the doors of opportunity in the community. Again this signifies that lack of funding along with other issues that caused individuals from black and poor spaces to work twice as hard.
As a recent graduate of The Academies of West Memphis( our only high school), I have genuinely enjoyed it from the Band, auguring with teachers, and laughing with Thee Red Carpet ( my friends). Still, it is a few issues with West Memphis High school that need to be fixed pertaining to its black students from East and Wonder compared to others. First off, the negative connotations of being a Wonder or East Alumni need to be removed. Once someone finds out you went to this school, it is almost an instant wave of underestimation; a question of not only your intellect but character. Yet, if you are from West, you have the privilege of automatically being a “good” student and having the ability to grasp opportunities with ease. In contrast, someone from the other schools has to work twice as hard not to not only be acknowledged but put in those same categories. I have several personal experiences with being doubted whether that my musical abilities, which were eventually proven, or how our white counselor questions if I can handle AP classes and Dual enrollment along with Band while letting a white girl register with no issue. Along with this, I must confess that I often think that a lot of opportunities I did get was because of individuals eventually associating me with West as if “smart” kids did not come from Wonder. In fact, many people have told me that “you do not act like you went to wonder” and “I thought you went to West”. This is again how they associate intellect with each of the junior high schools.
After Wonder, I had a mission to prove my skill was up to par, to prove that a student from Wonder can not only stand his ground but surpass others as well. I also wanted to inspire other Wonder students to bypass the limitations people have put on them and prove everyone wrong. After a few months, I defied the negative stereotypes and not only made the 1st Band All region but entered symphonic winds. Each accomplishment was not always personal but for those after me to see. Even so, by 11th grade, we had a new band director who came from a completely different environment ( a mostly white and wealthy school). Despite district officials understanding that this man has no credibility in a climate like this, they hired him. With his hiring, he wanted to change the “culture.” This ultimately caused the program to ruin its reputation and caused many to hate what they love. This is another example of individuals underestimating a majority black environment and seeking to change it without first getting to know it.
Conclusively, as you can see, the ordeals I have been involved in my life have allowed me to value a black educational space. Not only did I create a bond with so many Black teachers who were devoted to teaching and modeling black students and allowing us to understand that the entire world will not be all black nor will it treat you decently, but I was also allowed the privilege to meet a teacher who told me that building myself in an all-black setting first will prepare me for the world outside of it. As a society, we must understand that black educational space, whether its early life schooling or an HBCU, is vital and essential for so many. Without Jackson building the foundation and Wonder Junior leading and introducing me to things such as HBCUs, I would not be who I am today. I hope that those who are reading this realizes that coming from the projects, living on a particular side of town, or being Black does not determine who and what you can do.
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