Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.” In this post, I describe how our daughter, Shelby, reminded us that our lessons in diversity should apply to her when we moved our family to Greenville, SC.
The years in Greenville, South Carolina, turned out to be the coming of age era for our daughter, Shelby. Unhappy with the lack of diversity at Christ Church Episcopal School, she asked and we agreed to let her transfer in 10th grade to the public Mauldin High School.
As a child who grew up in a family that valued the diversity around us, at first it was difficult for
Shelby to figure out where she belonged. Unlike at Brown Academy (in Alexandria, Virginia), where the classes were homogeneous, and Christ Church, where she didn’t have a choice but to hang out with white students, at Mauldin she didn’t really fit in at first.
I grew up only going to school with black students in the Jim Crow era of segregation. But in the 1990s at Mauldin, Shelby discovered that for the most part, black kids hung out with black kids and white kids with whites. At lunch time she had to consider which group to try and sit with every day. As a society, for every step forward, it seems were were taking two steps back.
Ultimately, school activities of varsity basketball, chorus and the opportunity to travel internationally with her French teacher, Mrs. Robert, helped Shelby find her own place at Mauldin. When it was time for her to consider college I listened to her rationale when she told me she would not uphold the family tradition and become the fourth generation of women in our family to enroll at Spelman College.
“You raised me in this diverse lifestyle,” she told me.
Going to an HBCU was not her desire and eventually I came to accept her decision. She was accepted early decision at Winthrop University, a small, diverse state school in Rock Hill, South Carolina, a bedroom community about 20 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. To appease me, I’m sure, she successfully maintained a good GPA and kept a South Carolina lottery-funded tuition scholarship all four years.
Like Kenny Rogers sang in the song “The Gambler,” “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away.”
Winthrop was Shelby’s hold ‘em, fold ‘em decision. It was a good educational and social experience for her and as a state-funded university, a good financial outcome for her parents.
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