How to End Segregated Proms Once And For All

The Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision ending segregation in schools was handed down in 1954 and the year is currently 2013. It would be reasonable to think that segregation no longer exists in schools in the United States of America. However, one night a year in Wilcox County, Ga., segregation rules the day, as white students and African American students head off to different proms to celebrate separately.

This isn’t the first year or the first place where we’ve heard about this embarrassing and antiquated phenomenon. School administrators argue that since proms are privately funded, often by parents, there is little they can do to address the situation. When the school recently attempted to host a school-sponsored prom, efforts failed and a school sponsored prom in 1995 had low attendance. Since the proms are private events school administrators have argued the events are our of their jurisdiction when federal law enforcement has taken an interest in these events.  Former GOP Legislator Matt Towery has argued in the past that while the events may be privately funded, they still break the law because the events are largely organized on the school’s campus and use the brand name of the high school, both which are paid for by local taxpayers.

When an African American student was elected homecoming queen this year, she was barred from attending a private, white homecoming. That’s when a group of African American and white students declared enough was enough. They publicly declared the segregated proms an embarrassment. The students, an interracial group of girls who have been friends since 4th grade, began to work to organize an integrated prom. When the teens addressed the school board, they were given the same old tired defense about being unable to stop private events. Using social media and barbecue plate fundraisers the girls raised enough money to hold their own interracial prom. “If we don’t change it nobody will,” Keela Bloodsworth, one of the fundraisers, has been quoted saying. Thanks to these teenagers, their high school's first integrated prom will be held this April.

These girls are brave and they faced resistance from some in of their community. School administrators should have been standing with them. Instead, the school has been busy trying to justify its own behavior.

“Instead of attacking our school system, its employees, and our community, we ask for your support and prayers as we seek to right the wrongs of the past and be the adults our children look up to,” reads a statement from the school’s website.

This response is as embarrassing as the segregated proms themselves. The attempt to take the moral high ground by accusing the media of “attacking” the school is ludicrous. The administrators of this school will never be the “adults our children look up to” as long as the they lack the bravery to tackle racism and push for change.

There is a simple solution to end the segregated proms forever. Ban the private proms. Any student found attending a private prom or organizing a private prom should be banned from walking on stage at graduation. The regulation of student behavior outside of school hours is a standard practice at many schools which hold codes of ethics that would stop kids from walking at graduation if they were caught drinking, or would ban them an athletic team for a similar infraction. It’s time to apply the same logic to prom.

There should be one prom for one school, which is funded by the student body and their parents. Instead of parents contributing to and organizing private events, they can spend their time working together with students for one event for the whole community. They won’t have the option of creating excuses to continue on in the old ways, not if they want their children to attend a prom. Some parents will be angry and will refuse to participate, but it will finally end this embarrassing and divisive practice. There will be backlash, change is hard. School administrators should be as brave as the teenagers they are attempting to educate. They could stand to learn from their students.

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Carly Pildis

Carly Pildis is a Political Organizer who has spent her career fighting for social/economic justice and equality. She has worked on a variety of issue campaigns and recently finished work on the Obama campaign. When she isn't working, she enjoys wandering her neighborhood farmer's market, watching Boston based sports teams, and being active in her synagogue. All opinions are my own and do not reflect on any employer past or present.

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