I couldn’t stop thinking about the interview I did with the students in Mr. Pisano’s eighth-grade social studies class a month or so ago that led to the Feb. 22 article “Dr. King’s ‘Dream’: Reality in Forest Park?”
Although only about a third of the class responded to my questions during the hour we spent together, I got the impression from all of them that race was simply not an issue at Forest Park Middle School. Dr. King’s ‘Dream’ was that: some day all people in America would be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.
Taylor Bailey, Lewis Simpson, Robert Hoskins and their classmates said, more or less, that they judge their classmates based on their characters. If classmates are jerks, they avoid them. What’s more, the smart, funny, dependable kids are the ones who are popular.
Somehow, some way, a culture seems to have been created at the middle school which doesn’t pit one race or culture against another. They’ve even come up with a common language – not Ebonics and not the king’s English either. It’s its own slang – and if they were talking to you on the phone, you couldn’t tell the whites from the blacks from the Hispanics from the Asians.
Robert Hoskins put it like this: He said that he understands how some people talk to one group one way and to another group a different way. He added that he knows who he is and therefore doesn’t feel like he has to change the way he talks when addressing different groups.
“My word, how things have changed,” I thought to myself; and that night I shared what I had just experienced with six of my friends – two of them black and four of them white.
They were impressed, until one of them said, “That’s nice, but it will all change once they’re in high school.” All six friends were from Oak Park and were either speaking from personal experience or referencing stories they had read in the Wednesday Journal.
I interviewed the OPRF Gospel Choir a few years back. The ensemble was mostly black except for one or two white kids and a Hispanic youth. “We would love to have more white kids join the choir,” said one student, “but they just don’t want to be part of it.”
Some of the choir members speculated a possible discomfort with black culture. Others thought it might be due to the lyrics of gospel songs being blatantly Christian. Some said it was because of racism.
Something happened to these kids from “liberal parents” as they got deeper into adolescence, which made birds of a feather stick closer together.
Robert Hoskins’ father, Rory, noted that some adults “self-segregate,” and, thus, are uncomfortable interacting with people of other races.
He said simple things like block parties can go a long way in helping people realize that we are more alike than different.
It was so much fun to be with Mr. Pisano’s class two weeks ago. I wanted to somehow shield them from future disillusionments as they move along in life.
I’d like to follow them for the next four years and see if their experience in our middle school has been profound enough to permanently change their character or just a season of innocence before getting clobbered by the real world.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.