City Year Seattle/King County corps member, Anna Akers-Pecht, serves with the Microsoft Diplomas Now team at Aki Kurose Middle School. In her blog below, she explains how her experience growing up in rural Southern Virginia inspired her to make an impact in public education, work to break down racial barriers and commit a year to service.
I serve because, while Brown v. Board of Education desegregated schools, it never fully integrated them. Growing up in rural Southern Virginia, I experienced firsthand the lasting, harmful effects of segregation. After the Brown v. Board ruling, U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., called for a campaign of “Massive Resistance” in Virginia, during which white Virginians resisted desegregation at all costs. Rather than integrate, a neighboring county, Prince Edward, shut down its entire public school system for five years. In my own county, Brunswick, many white parents created a private academy that still exists today.
I attended the public school system, where the student population was roughly 80 percent African-American. The majority of students qualified for free and reduced lunch, and our school system constantly struggled to meet federal benchmarks on standardized tests. I was always frustrated that my school never received the full community support it deserved, as many local businesses support the academy and not the public schools. Perhaps most frustrating to me were the teachers who worked in the public school system, yet sent their own children to the academy. One day after school in the tenth grade, I was talking to my English teacher’s daughter, who attended the academy. As we spoke in the hallways, she told me, “Mama doesn’t like me hanging around here after school,” expressing concern about drugs and violence. I felt hurt and infuriated that my own teacher would characterize our school in such a negative way.
Growing up, I only thought about how the academy’s existence negatively affected the public school system. Now, however, I realize the academy is only a symptom of the lingering, underlying racism that has seeped down like a poison through the generations. Beyond the schools, this poison has prevented our entire community from growing and reaching its full potential.
Making the distinction between desegregation and true integration, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Desegregation will break down legal barriers, and bring men together physically. But something must happen so as to touch the hearts and souls of men that they will come together, not because the law says it, but because it is natural and right.” I serve to break down these destructive barriers between groups of people, so that our country will one day fulfill Dr. King’s dream of “a truly brotherly society…a beloved community.”