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I can remember the first time that I’ve ever met a white person before. My first time was in sixth grade when I went to Academy school in Glastonbury. Sure I’d seen them in movies, at the stores, and maybe I had a white teacher, but the first time I’d ever interacted with a white person was that year.
I was an exceptional student then. Too smart for my grade they said. My English teacher in 5th grade, Mrs. Wimberly, told me I needed to get out of the Hartford Public School system. She suggested to my mother that I try out a program called Project Concern. This was a program that brought inner city youth out into suburban schools so as to give equal opportunities for education.
My mother applied to this and was informed before the end of my fifth grade school year that I was accepted and would be going to school in Glastonbury. Glastonbury!? Where the heck was that? I didn’t even know such a place existed in my small little world. The farthest I’d ever been was East Hartford or maybe the Westfarms mall, and I just saw those as extensions of Hartford. I was a little worried as to what this experience was going to be like.
I told everyone at Annie Fisher, my elementary school in Hartford, the news at the lunch table one day. While unwrapping my lunch from those plastic cases, and opening my carton of low-fat milk I broke the news. Some of the girls at the table began to say, “Oh we’re gonna miss you Chancellor!” Then the guys chimed in. My one friend, Barry, informed me that I was going to a mostly white school only he put it in other terms, “Ha ha, you’re going to be going to school with a bunch of crackers!” I’d never heard the term before, but another kid chimed in through mouthfuls of his dry salami sandwich, “You’re going to a white school!?”
I was a bit confused. What was this? I was never told I’d be going to school with white people. I’d never in talked to a white person before. They seem like some abstract, far off idea that I could not yet comprehend. I began to get nervous sitting at that lunch table, with my feet sticking to the dried juice on the floor. I asked them, “What are they like?
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The same kid Barry then blurted out, “How many Black serial killers do you know? Man, those people can be sick sometimes. Just look at Hitler.” Needless to say that scared the crap out of me. He then continued, “Yeah, they’re crazy sometimes, and some of them are racist. So don’t make any quick movements otherwise they’ll be scared and might do something drastic.” I never questioned where he got his information from, but I assumed it was right and what he said frightened me. I’d seen the movie Roots and I knew what happened with the slaves, but that all seemed long ago. Surely know one still harbored those feelings. I had a tough time sleeping that night.
The end of the school year came and it was time for summer vacation. I didn’t really think too much more about my new school the entire summer until about a week before I was to start. This is when I really started to have my doubts. I remembered back to what Barry said, and I wondered how much truth there was to it. I was thinking about the first day of school, when I’d see hundreds of white faces, all of them looking at me in disbelief or disgust. Needless to say, I was a little afraid, and it wasn’t until the first day of school that my fears were relieved.
As I rode the bus along to highway, watching the yellow lines speed by, I thought about what I was going to say. “Hey what’s up?” “Hi my name is Chancellor. What’s yours?” “How’s it goin’?” I didn’t know what I wanted to say. As I stepped off the bus I saw the biggest mass of white kids, that I had ever seen in my life. It was 20 minutes before we were to enter the building and everyone was just hanging out outside. As I walked around this crowd it seemed that everyone already knew everyone. I heard people telling stories of their summer vacations, where they went, who they saw, what they did. No one seemed to be staring at me though and I saw that as a good sign.
The bell rang and the mass of kids moved like an amoeba, and everyone squeezed their way through two double doors. While entering the building I came into close contact with a few white kids and they didn’t seemed appalled by it. “They just looked at me and said oh sorry. Did step on you?” Huh!? Them apologizing to me. From what Barry told me I thought they’d break out in a fit of rage and go on a killing spree, or look at me in disgust and turn their nose up at me. Instead he apologized to me. He said sorry to me. What was going on here?
As the day went on I realized all of my fears were unfounded. White people weren’t so much different from me. Sure their skin was a different color, and they dressed differently from me but they were still people like me. I realized that day that I shouldn’t have preconceived notions about people. I should meet them and judge then, not make assumptions and base my judgments on them. This helped when I was coming to Westminster.
I was in Glastonbury High now, home of the Tomahawks. My mother had heard of a scholarship that this school was offering. It was a private school in Simsbury. “Private school!?” I thought to myself. I told my friends about this and just like Barry they had their preconceptions. “Yeah they’re all stuck up and snobby. They’ll look down at you speeding off in their Porsche’s with their sweaters tied around their necks.” This time around I’d learned that I shouldn’t be afraid based on these prejudices. I told them, “I don’t know. Maybe it won’t be so bad. Never hurt to try something new.”
Well now I’m at Westminster and I’ve assimilated nicely. No scrubbing of a rich kids shoes, or turning my head away in shame because I don’t have a BMW. Everyone here is nice and my first three years have been a wonderful experience. "Assumptions allow the best in life to pass you by."