Sunday Sit-Down #4: On the Bus

At Old Bonhomme School there was always a range of faces different from mine. I took for granted the mix of kids in my classes. As far as I knew, I went to a neighborhood school with neighborhood kids, and we all learned and played and together as one community.

What I didn’t know, and what I didn’t understand, was that the diverse mix of students wasn’t a natural part of living in Olivette. Yes, there was racial diversity within school attendance lines. But.

What I didn’t know, and what I didn’t understand, was that the diverse mix of students was largely due to the fact that I went to elementary school in Saint Louis at the height of school desegregation. That my classmates and I were a part of a grand social experiment.

What I didn’t know, and what I didn’t understand, was that many Black children spent long mornings and long afternoons on the bus to and from the city. That they left behind their own neighborhoods, their own neighbors, their own neighborhood schools to attend school in my district.

What I didn’t know, and what I didn’t understand, were the direct and open ways in which our communities were segregated in the first place.

What I didn’t know, and what I didn’t understand, was that we were all part of a system that, in the name of “quality education,” would separate kids from their communities to send them to other schools, rather than giving them what they needed where they needed it.

What I didn’t know, and what I didn’t understand, was that school desegregation allowed a number of kids to get an education in affluent districts while overlooking city communities. That if we really meant to desegregate schools, we’d improve all schools and bus children in both directions. Or we’d take away racial and economic barriers to housing equality. But we didn’t, and we didn’t. And we didn’t.

Those realizations would come.

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