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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.
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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.
I have discussed many issues with my friend, different issues of acceptance of minorities by the majority. I recall one discussion we had on affirmative action, specifically in universities. He naturally took the pro-affirmative action side, while I presented my beliefs against it. It seems like a great injustice to those with better qualifications who do not get into a school because of affirmative action. I would feel guilty if I knew I was at a school simply because I was a minority in some way and that better qualified students were unable to be in the same place. My argument was struck down immediately: my friend, who had only been accepted because of affirmative action, said he didn’t feel any guilt or inadequacy at all. He said he (and I can attest on his behalf) didn’t have the same opportunities that others—students not too different from myself—have had. I know that he is as capable as anybody else at the University of Illinois and that he very much deserves to get an education here, and I was a bit shocked when he told me he was accepted to the school because of affirmative action. A person’s high school GPA and ACT score could not possibly give due justice to a person, labeling them as capable or incapable. So much weight is placed upon the standardized test score in considering the magnitude of a person, yet it is such an unfair measure. My high school offered ACT classes and strongly encouraged our attendance. When people in one community have the luxury of attending after-school classes while people in another community take a bus 45 minutes to a part time job so they can hopefully afford to go to college if they get accepted, it is obvious who will have the higher test scores. Higher test scores do not necessarily mean that the people who have the opportunity to take the classes are more intelligent than those who are struggling to make college a possibility. I will not say that I have completely changed my thinking or that I am completely for affirmative action. I still believe it is unfair to qualified students if they cannot get a spot in a school reserved for a person of particular race or gender, but by the current means of measuring a student, some system is necessary to allow the same opportunities for the equally qualified students who lack the higher test scores. Unlike my friend, who was raised and educated in a poor area of Chicago, whose school did not offer the same advanced courses, and whose life did not allow for the same scholastic focus, I have been blessed with more opportunities than I knew I even had. Until the same education is given to the black schools in the south side of Chicago as in the white suburban schools of Naperville and Aurora, the test scores which are so heavily weighted in judging students are nothing more than meaningless numbers on paper. The Brown v. Board of Education ruling promised equal opportunities to students of all races, but today, 50 years later, I am finally aware of the continuing stratification in educational privilege between races.
Julian Bond lectured on April 2nd about the failure of US in upholding this promise and called for everyone to continue to push for equal education until the promise made by Brown v. Board of Education has been fulfilled. The scars of ignorance given to me during my childhood in Naperville (I mean Aurora) will forever remain, despite my exposure to reality. I feel, however, that I have now been awakened to the real problems of school segregation as it exists today. Julian Bond made me aware of a problem my closest friends struggle with—a problem I was blind to before April 2nd. It is not possible to calculate the ways of the world by simply analyzing the immediate surroundings, because 30 miles away there could exist a completely different reality. I was fortunate to have my eyes opened, and I can only hope that others as ignorant as me may have the opportunity to realize the problems that still exist today.