The summer after my eighth grade year, my family moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan to New Orleans, Louisiana. Before my first day of high school, my dad sat me down in our new living room. He explained that he and my mom had looked at schools all over the city – private and public; and finally, they had chosen for me Edna Karr High School on the West Bank.
I still remember his words. He said, “I have the money to send you to the best private school in town, but that’s not who we are. You are going to attend a school where there are people who aren’t like you. You’re going to a school with kids who don’t have our money, with kids who aren’t the same race as you, because that’s who we are. It’s who Jesus has called us to be.”
I was in the racial minority of my high school. There were “rough” kids around me, and I didn’t get the ivy league level education some of the private schools in New Orleans could have offered me. Dad told me later that he got crap from his doctor friends. They told him he was making a huge mistake sending me to a public school.
Now, as a parent myself, I appreciate the difficulty of the decision my parents made. You want the best for your kids. You want to protect them. You want to give them every advantage. Making a decision to send them to a “tougher” school because it has socio-economic and racial diversity is painful.
I am thankful my parents did what they did. At Karr I learned about community and brotherhood. I learned about struggle and what it looks like to overcome. I learned about sacrifice and love. I saw kids who had the deck of life stacked against them, rise, become champions, and grow into men and women I am honored to know. It was through my relationships with them that I came to understand the world.
When it comes to integration, we are better together.
I am a better man, father, husband, student, and leader because my parents chose integration.
We are better together.
I now have five kids. When choosing where to live, my wife and I too looked for racially diverse schools, because that’s who we are. It’s who we are called to be.
My wife has taken this mission a step further. She jokes with the kids that it’s their job to build “The International House of Elkins.” She told them she wants them each to marry a kid of a different race so she can have diverse grand-kids.
We are better together.
This past week the radio show This American Life did a program on integration. They will be doing another next week. I urge you to listen and consider. You can find the first show here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/562/the-problem-we-all-live-with
Go and listen. And as you do remember, we are better together.