Sunday, May 16, 2004

No place to hide

By Mona L. Bronson-Fuqua

Mona Bronson was an 11-year-old fifth-grader in 1974 when she became the name behind the lawsuit that would help desegregate Cincinnati Public Schools. Bronson v. Cincinnati Board of Education was one of hundreds of desegregation suits filed across the country that sought compliance with laws barring separate schools for blacks.

Today, Mona L. Bronson-Fuqua, 40, is married with two children in Cincinnati public schools. The Westwood resident is a news aide at the Enquirer. Here, she shares her thoughts, 50 years after the historic Supreme Court ruling barring "separate but equal" schools.

The anniversary of Brown v. Board brings me back to a familiar situation with an unfamiliar response.

When my parents told me about the case, in 1974, it really had very little impact on my fifth-grade world. I didn't understand how there could be a suit to desegregate the schools when my experience was not the same as what I understood segregation to be.

My best friend was white, my favorite teacher black and I lived in Kennedy Heights, a neighborhood that prides itself on diversity. I didn't perceive any lack in my situation. But, in retrospect, I can see where I might have benefited from a school with more resources, one that encouraged me to strive where I excelled rather than be marginalized by my failings.

My family did not participate in media coverage of these events, and over the years it became a footnote to my regular life.

But it's clear that 50 years after Brown, we are still on the journey.

It is unfortunate that this marker is required. This process should be part of our everyday dialogue, taught in our schools and in our homes. We hide behind the assumption that desegregation is a done deal, that wrongs have been addressed, and that constant examination of how we are doing is not required.

Court decisions over the years have made it possible for some individuals to flee public schools and build ivory towers elsewhere.

Hiding away in these citadels of perceived safety deprives those with nowhere to run of the possibility of integration and better education. It also deprives those closeted individuals of the richness found in diversity and practical preparation for membership in the real world.

Personally, I have struggled with my responsibilities to my children. Part of me wants to remove them to schools that will provide them with the best possible educations and that are void of the pitfalls found in public schools. Part of me recognizes our obligation to stay, fight and make things better for future generations.

Having for the most part tried to downplay my role in Bronson v. the Board, I've realized I can't run from something that is part of who I am.

As the mother of African-American children in a system that still has not reached its potential, I can't hide from work unfinished.

So here's what I believe: Abandonment of our collective responsibility to quality education of all children is leading to our collective failure. Integration of schools is not just an issue of color, but an issue of economics and the investment of time, energy and talents.

I come from a generation that knew life before Brown and worked to have Brown's promise met where they live. Fifty years after Brown, and 20 years after the initial settlement of Bronson, I am committed to working toward the fulfillment of that promise in my children so that at Brown 75, my grandchildren can truly celebrate.

See and compare the racial breakdowns at schools and districts in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
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Share your opinions and see what others are saying.

From the 1950s to today, learn about key events in the struggle for equality in education. Interactive timeline...

In audio interviews, students from the Louisville, Ky., area say they value diversity but note that self-segregation is common.
Hear their views...

Musesums offer lessons about the significance of the Brown case in all aspects of American life.
Roundup of exhibits...

The Internet is full of resources to help you learn more about the legacy of the Brown decision.
List of sites...

Enquirer special report
Gannett News Service report