The Role of Education
I was born in the early 80s and grew up (pre-college years) in Richmond, Virginia. It’s a medium sized city or large town, depending upon who you ask, that’s not too different from any other of its category within this country. My childhood memories are a mix of basketball games on driveway courts, outdoor concerts and festivals that smelled like blended incense, jerk chicken and funnel cakes, and frequent trips to the doctor…I had asthma. In the summer we swam and in the winter we hoped that it would snow just enough for my father to take us, my brother and I, to an auto shop where we would pick out the best two inner-tubes and head straight for Fulton Hill…hands down the best sledding( or in our case tubing) spot in the Richmond.
I attended Richmond City Public Schools throughout my entire primary education and on my first day of school although he’d told me I didn’t have to, I decided to use my magical ability to transform my father, from dad to Mr. Hughes; he was my first teacher. The next year when I transferred to Ginter Park where my mother was the school Speech Pathologist, the fact that I was a mother’s boy made calling her anything other than mom an act of treason.
I didn’t want to bore you with the details of my youth, but I wanted to paint a picture of where I was at that point in my life and the things that I cared about, in an attempt to contrast, what mattered to me, with the lessons that children are subconsciously being taught about the world around them at the very same time. Because ironically, it was at this point, not in high school, not in middle school or college, but on the playgrounds and in the cafeteria’s of JEB Stuart and Ginter Park Elementary, that the foundation for my knowledge and understanding of race in this country was set. This is when we begin to teach our children in unspoken ways, that they’re only expected to play with, talk to and appreciate people like themselves…while simultaneously desensitizing them to those that aren’t.
What are we teaching our children when, they walk into school for the first time and are surrounded by only people who look like themselves, talk like themselves, live near themselves and act like themselves? How do they learn to appreciate people’s differences? How do they learn to see past those differences and see people as people despite those differences? What message do we send our children when we drive them past the schools in our neighborhoods, past the yellow buses and the kids playing at the bus stops they should be standing at and drop them off in the middle of a fenced in private school? And after answering these questions, the next I’d have to pose is: for the majority of our nation’s inner city schools, did desegregation ever really take place at all???
Sure we say that we never talk about or even think about people in a racially discriminatory manner…but the sad truth is that many of the systems in today’s society have been set-up in a way that makes it possible to live your entire life without interacting with anyone unlike ourselves. You can choose which stores you go to, which mall you shop at, which gas stations that you use and what television station you watch and of course what school your children attend…for some, you can even choose their teacher. And for many, the people who don’t fit into their daily routines… simply do not exist. With that being said, how big of a role do schools play in shaping the racial tolerance of today’s children and ultimately our culture? And with private institutions and many school zones so heavily racially divided, what can be done to solve this growing problem? To be honest sometimes I feel as though even the schools I attended were just as segregated as they were before integration…only this time, we chose to make it that way. If you were to give an honest answer…what role did your education play in your development and shaping the diversity of those with whom you most closely interact and therefore appreciate today?
Omari Hughes, originally from Richmond, Virginia, is a graduate of Hampton University. While studying at Hampton he obtained his Bachelors Degree in Broadcast Journalism from the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications. His accomplishments while at Hampton included being awarded the Lottie S. Knight Book Award, for being the highest ranking sophomore in the university’s school of journalism, being selected as a Presidential Scholar, for which he was awarded a full academic scholarship throughout all four years of his matriculation and becoming a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated. After completing his matriculation at Hampton, Omari moved on to Baltimore, Maryland where he accepted a position as Director of New Media at WMAR-TV ABC2 News; where he managed the station’s interactive department. During his two-year stay he led the station through two complete website redesigns and grew the stations web traffic to five times that of the prior year. In addition to his managerial roles, Omari also served as the anchor of a new and innovative online only show, the ABC2 Netcast. Omari is currently the Director of Interactive Communications for Local Origination Software, an interactive communications company specializing in multi-media based communications. There he heads the interactive development dept., and helps to shape the structure and direction of a young and swiftly growing company.