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Loose Ends Still Untied
Aurora is not known to be the greatest town in the suburbs of Chicago, so it is a typical move for the people from my side of town to claim residence in Naperville. I will be the first to admit that I have often betrayed my hometown and laid claim to its relatively glamorous neighbor. Naperville is one of the country’s “best places to raise a family,” or so I have heard. I wouldn’t be too surprised, considering the amount of wealth that flows through the town. Naperville offers a mix of people, professionals and their families of various ethnicities and backgrounds; however, it lacks true culture diversity. Even though there are whites, blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, etc., few of its youths are conscious of the various backgrounds because of the economic equality of everyone: everyone is equally rich in Naperville (a point of which I and my fellow Aurorans regularly accused our Naperville schoolmates). My high school consisted of a decent racial blend, and despite a few cultural cliques, everyone was White in thought and in wallet. I did not hold this view at the time, but I had yet to be exposed to reality then.
When I came to the University of Illinois, I was accompanied by a significant force of my high school peers, including all but two of my closest friends. During the first few weeks of school, when everybody was meeting everybody else, I was busy hanging out with my standard high school group and, thus, missed much of the opportunity to make a bounty of new friends. I did, however, meet one person who has become my closest friend and who sparked my introduction to reality. I went to visit him over spring break. It was a Friday, a little past noon. My friend lives around 75th Street, a block from Lake Michigan. For everyone who isn’t from the area, I was right in the middle of a very black south side of Chicago neighborhood. When his mother found out I was coming to do lunch, she asked him, “Why are you making this boy come out here?” My friend responded immediately: “Mom, he’s not afraid of black people.” This was a true statement; I never had feared anyone because of race, but his mother instinctively knew, unlike my friend and me, that his hometown and my hometown were polar opposites. After lunch at Pizza Hut, I drove him to his father’s house, which was conveniently on the way to Evergreen Park, four blocks north of 95th street. When I left, I was instructed by his father to take the road back to the main avenue before going south to 95th. Back at school, I saw a picture of his high school graduating class hanging in his dorm, and for the first time, I saw a school picture where everyone was black with a white face here and there. The faces of my school pictures were always half white and splashed with various colors between. It was after those combined experiences that, for the first time in my life (and it took 19 years) I was able to accept that the whole world hasn’t racially integrated.
On April 2, 2004, Julian Bond, the chairman of the NAACP, gave a lecture in Smith Memorial Hall as a 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education entitled “The Broken Promise of Brown.” The long and short of the lecture simply stated that despite the laws that have been passed since Brown v. Board of Education, the integration process promised by the Supreme Court still has not been fulfilled. It was not exactly the most serious speech ever given; there were plenty of political cracks at President Bush and other sarcastic points which always raised chuckles from the audience, making the lecture exciting enough to keep even the students attending their 15th lecture of the day awake until the end. I admit that I half enjoyed spending my Friday evening in a lecture with Mr. Bond, even though I didn’t exactly see eye to eye with everything Julian Bond proposed and argued that night. One of the topics specifically discussed in both Bond’s lecture and in the Question-and-Answer session that followed was the Chicago school system, and I could think only of my friend whom I had visited exactly one week before. I never would have understood the reality of what was being discussed by Mr. Bond and by a Chicago school teacher when they talked about the Chicago schools if I had never met my friend and acquired a knowledge of his experiences. Instead I would have scoffed at the problems as over exaggerated. More important than the issues brought up and analyzed that night was the simple fact of our presence. From Julian Bond, the chairman of the NAACP, and Nancy Cantor, the University’s Chancellor, to the students with notebooks in hand, and the assortment of political figures, activists, professors, and teachers, we united not only to remember the Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education 50 years ago but also to identify existing problems. It was important that a concerned father came to ask Mr. Bond how to give his daughter a fair and complete education unlike the one he had received in school. It was equally important that people such as me, who are not exposed to the problems, were in attendance to understand that there are loose ends still untied.