Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner

Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner
Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains

Monday, January 17, 2011

Day 3-Martin Luther King Jr

Stand, Just Stand is a great gospel song.  Sometimes we can't do anything but just stand.  The most recent event of the shooting in Tucson, Arizona is an example that comes to mind.  A mentally ill person mindlessly shoots and wounds adults and kills 6 people including a 9 year old child.  The helplessness one feels when a tragedy happens is numbing.  Stand.

There are other times where just doing something is the right thing to do.   These times usually involve our freedom of speech.  When our foreign exchange student came from Brazil, he was 17 and had taken 12 years of school and was to be a senior at our local high school.  He asked me before coming if he was going to be a senior and I assured him he would.  When I was in high school around the early 80's we had six foreign exchange students and all of them were seniors.  I had met the secretary of our local high school when turning in the paperwork for him and she remembered her foreign exchange student from the 60's and they were seniors.  So the day when we took him to register, imagine our surprise and his horror when they put him in the eleventh grade.  He was crying and sad.  I apologized and told him we would fight this with everything we could.  We didn't have money for a lawyer, so we fought with our voice.

We met with the guidance counselor.  He said that one of the reasons that the foreign exchange students couldn't be seniors is that it would affect the rankings of the American students.  (At the graduation, we found out that his son was the Valedictorian.) He said he didn't have time to transfer all the credits to the American School System because each country was different.  We thought that was part of his job but I guess we were mistaken. I suggested then that he exempt Felipe and the other students from the standings and alleviate this obstacle. No word came from him, silence.

Eventually, after Jula, my other foreign exchange student from Germany went to him, He said he would talk to the Principal who ultimately had the final say.  Silence. We called our district school board representative who said to WAIT.  (This is August)  We learned through this experience that WAIT is another form of silence.  [DON'T EVER WAIT- Push ahead and find somebody else who WILL help].  We wrote to the School Board Superintendent. Silence. He had his Assistant Superintendent call us.  Silence. She asked her secretary call us.  She called and we told her our concern.  This violated every single civil right of Felipe that is protected under the constitution.  Even illegal immigrants are REQUIRED by school districts to be tested to receive "proper placement".  We explained that this policy of not allowing foreign exchange students to be seniors just because they were foreign exchange students was illegal.  We received a letter from the Assistant the next week that said simply, "We are sorry, this is our policy."  (We felt like we had taken our car to the shop to get it  fixed and they gave it back and said, "We're sorry, your car is broke.") Basically Silence.

In the meantime Felipe was the model "American" student.  He joined the ROTC, received the Cadette of the Month Award, played for the High School soccer team, got straight A's, attended school every day ( never missed because of sickness or health) and volunteered at school and at local social agencies.  Finally we waited long enough.  We attended the November School Board meeting knowing that once the public and school board found out about this injustice, Felipe would be able to join the commencement exercises to at least feel the American experience of the pomp and circumstance. 

We attended and Felipe spoke at this meeting. Silence. The Superintendent didn't really care, he was leaving in six months.  The irony: he was leaving to go to Egypt to teach "foreign" students while simultaneously & adamantly opposing the policy to allow foreign exchange students getting a diploma in America.  He felt this would allow Felipe to be "eligible" to receive aid to attend an American college.  Illegal immigrants could do this but in our local Florida county, kids who came here legally and spoke better English than some of our fellow citizens were not allowed to be seniors and participate in the graduation ceremony.  Silence.

We called our local ACLU to which we were members.  Silence. (We have not renewed our membership.) We contacted local lawyers and explained the situation but that we didn't have any money for lawyers fees.  Silence.  We wrote to 60 minutes, and 20/20. Silence.

In January, after waiting with no word, we called the newspaper.  Silence.  We kept calling and finally got to the new Editor since the paper was bought by another company. Surely coming from a bigger city, he would think this newsworthy.  He passed it to the local editor who sent a "local" county reporter for a "national" story. Why wouldn't anyone be outraged by this injustice?  This is how we felt. 

This is how we feel about ANY injustice.  I'm sure this is EXACTLY how Martin Luther King, Jr and for all the people he eloquently spoke felt.  Martin Luther King, Jr had one quote that resonates with me to this day.  Silence constitutes consent.  Sometimes doing the right thing means speaking out against injustice.  Any and all injustice.

The eight foreign exchange students last year got to participate in the graduation ceremony as a result of our voice and with the help of the guidance counselor (on the right).  Short of hiring a lawyer, I feel like our American public school system failed Felipe as we told him that Americans always make it right. Sometimes it takes longer than expected.

I do believe if we had money to fight this in the courts, we would have won.    In this case we didn't. I felt defeated because we did the right thing, went through all the proper channels and didn't provide the opportunity given to my fellow foreign exchange students twenty-five years ago.  He received a blank piece of paper in his envelope that day.  So this blog just represents another way to use my voice.  Today, with Dr. King .....I'll just stand.

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