It was a sweltering hot Los Angeles weekend afternoon and with a long shopping list of what to buy at Costco, I found myself riveted in the driver’s seat, listening to a story on NPR about a group of White families, in a gentrifying neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama, who instead of following the trend of other middle/upper middle class White and Black families to send their kids to private school, went to an open house of the local public school, which was not racially diverse – i.e. – no White kids – and found a wonderful neighborhood school.

I loved hearing one of the moms, Elizabeth Brantley, with her Southern accent talking about how she felt when she first visited the school, “The minute we walked in, we were like, ‘This is just a normal school. This feels like the kind of school that I went to when I was little.’ ”  This is just how I felt when I walked into our school for the first time, so I had to hear more.

According to the piece, Birmingham schools in general have a bad rap and are actually under State control.  LAUSD schools aren’t under state control, but they certainly get their share of bad rap that is hard to ignore.  Such a big beauracracy of a district is bound to have its share of issues and inability to reform and make progress, but the media doesn’t tend to report on the good stuff.

Los Angeles doesn’t have the same obvious depth of history regarding racial issues than Birgimham does – being the face of forced integration in the 60s – but we have the more subtle socially acceptable kind of disparities either based on race or wealth, that is played out in neighborhoods all through Los Angeles.  Attract wealthier families and the money starts flowing, which in turns attracts wealthier families, and so on. If a school is located in a neighborhood without wealthy families, the school must rely on State and Federal funding.  Thank goodness this is available, but it can’t compete with the silent auction fundraisers and gala balls of the Westside.  The divide between the rich and poor grows too big to bridge and unfortunately, sometimes that breaks down on color lines as well.  I am pretty sure that Los Angeles is way ahead of Birmingham when it come to racial intergration, but their story still gave me hope.

Despite some of the pessimistic statements from experts that were quoted in the NPR piece about the difficulty of intergrating the schools in general, I was encouraged by the optimisim of those parents in Birmingham, who had the means to go elsewhere, but chose not to –

One of the moms, Laura Kate Whitney, the piece told us,  “is optimistic that sending her son to Avondale will be good for her son and her community. “It’s so funny that our kids can be the bridges that bring us together,” Whitney says, “and maybe spread this throughout the city.” ”

Bravo to those moms in Birmingham, I feel like they gave me a bridge across the country.

Read/listen to the story:

http://www.npr.org/2012/09/29/160745722/new-wave-of-integration-in-birmingham-ala-schools

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