It has been nearly a year since the incident that somewhat exposed the institutional racism of my now former high school, Woodrow Wilson. What I neglected to inform many was how my final months at Woodrow Wilson unfolded; at last I’ll share my first hand experience of being the target of an entire administration and then some. Following the initial “shock’ as I like to call it, which drew attention from organizations ranging from the Charleston Gazette all the way to The Washington Post. Everyday was a learning process after it was publicized across the state, when I initially wrote the article that so to speak, set off the “shock” I was under no impression it would reach the masses it did.
Days and weeks following were made up of repeated interviews and more than frequent visits to the offices of each administrator. In all honesty I cannot tally the number of times I walked into the office and had a table of staff waiting for me, with a different topic daily. Teachers in fact began treating me altogether differently some better some worse; ones that were appalled by my punishment, others quietly in favor. I was constantly under some sort of surveillance by the administration, every move I made rather it was with the media or within my respective classes was monitored like a lab rat. The growing concern of the media and activists caused the administration to be more on edge than they have been in all there years in that school. One specific incident was after the article was published and the punishment was issued, I was called into one of the administrators office to discuss what I had done. Accepting my punishment was the least I could do, I had the entire school under a firestorm the exposing them in such a way they had never anticipated, but then it took a rather sharp turn.
Later I had learned that this particular administrator was a former coach and knew the assailants on a first name basis, that I inquired about respectfully I must add. This was not the first run in that these same assailants got off without any punishment at all therefore I grew suspicious. I resentfully inquired about his relationship with these students, immediately I was scolded for implying a conflict of interest, this continued for quite awhile before a police officer was called into the room (a very unnecessary move by the said administrator). Followed by this was the call in of even more administrators, their tactic being power in numbers to intimidate a single voice that had found a flaw in their system. This meeting persisted for hours just as every other meeting did, I grew weary of the same argument and the same tactic used by the administrators over and over. This caused me to begin missing school, to avoid the sheer scrutiny by every administrator, their tactic had slowly began to sink in as I grew exhausted of fighting the case. My initial punishment was to be locked in an in school suspension room for days with the assailants actually, this prompted harsh legal action from my lawyer. The punishment being highly unethical not to mention a complete obvious blunder by the ones who conceived it. Many staff members and the administrators carried a vendetta against me (many do to this day) which they used everything in their power in attempts to silence or scrutinize my cause at every chance. By the time it was time to deal with the punishment I was given, I prompted the current principal at the time of the lawsuit they would be facing as it was in the works of the ACLU at the time; this was my only defense tactic. To employ and expose their innermost fear of having their school scrutinized and reprimanded for the maltreatment of minorities.
The personal vendettas carried by particular staff members began impacting my close friends, ones that were well qualified for organizations such as National Honor Society were swiftly denied access solely based on their association with me. This I say with a great deal of confidence, as the requirements were not only fulfilled, they were exceeded yet they were denied and scrutinized based on association. Not only scrutinized, public scrutinized, certain staff had begun to call out my close friends and humiliate them in a classroom setting. Other incidents included remarks such as quote “He is a terrible influence” or “Stay away for your own good”, some being said in private, some in front of an entire class. Six of my close friends were pulled aside privately and were explicitly told to avoid me at all costs, I wish this weren’t true, but the vendettas began to sink deeper and deeper.
I held the lawsuit, I held it over the head of every administrator that dared scrutinize me or attempt to silence my cause; the toughest part was holding it under my belt for four months until I got my diploma. During one interview with an administrator I won’t release the name of began sharing their background with me. Every session and I mean every time I stepped foot into those offices I had a recorder on, I was not going to be harassed without proof. During this recollection by said administrator, a startling phrase arose – “My grandparents said the N word and I did not see them as racist people”, this shook me quite frankly, as it would anyone. That this racism and bias rooted so deep into the heart of the administration, that they themselves could not see a person referring to an African American as the “N word” as racist.
Let us jump ahead a few months shall we? Graduation day was surreal for me, months of relentless harassment were to be ceased. Leaving Woodrow Wilson High School indefinitely was a feat for me, one that was well fought. As I walked to across the stage and glanced at every single administrator I thought “It’s over, I’m finally free”, almost as if I had been imprisoned for those handful of months. Immediately following my graduation, I contacted my lawyers, the leverage I had that I desperately needed to be treated in remotely any sense of decency by the administration, was no longer needed.
Currently I’m a Biology major attending West Virginia University, and I cannot complain one bit. Besides the load of work every now and then, it is diverse. Every class, every study hall, everywhere is full of different people from different places all under one roof uniting them together under one university. Here and there I will still get a message or email from a student of WWHS asking how to approach unjust treatment, or even residents of my hometown of Beckley inquiring about lecturing a seminar on this subject; I try my best to help them in any way I can. So that as little have to experience that I did in those handful of months at WWHS.