Thursday, August 29, 2013

Education: A Generational Family Affair!

As I've mentioned before, I grew up in Hamilton Park, a small predominately black community in far North Dallas. I was among the first students bused to all white schools in Richardson, Texas, in the early 70's. It was a move meant to satisfy the court mandated desegregation as ordered by the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. Richardson ISD was finally, essentially found compliant a couple of weeks ago.

The Hamilton Park School itself, eventually became a 'Pacesetter' magnet school. A former schoolmate of mine recently sent me a wonderful story which tells of some of the richness and resilience of some of the families of that community. These members of the Jefferson family were my neighbors when I lived there and Thomas and his family (one of the first families to live in Hamilton Park) are friends of mine to this day!

This is a beautiful story that emerges out of what could be a tragic tale of loss and displacement.

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Today was the first day back to school for  most Texas kids.  – including a Richardson Schools 2nd grader named Thomas Jefferson the 5th. And like a lot of other kids, TJ strolled into Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet elementary side by side with a family elder. But here’s where the story gets interesting. The great grandfather TJ accompanied is 70 year-old Thomas Jefferson, Jr. – who attended Hamilton Park himself six decades ago. He made the same walk with his son, Thomas Jefferson the 3rd, and grandson, Thomas Jefferson the 4th. Here’s a look at an African American family legacy.
Hamilton Park School was built in in a middle class neighborhood in 1954. That’s the same year the landmark Brown Vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling declared segregated schools unconstitutional.
A spry, Thomas Jefferson Jr., and his wife Mary –high school sweet hearts – say despite segregation, this neighborhood school was like family.
“Everybody got along real well together. We played, had fun. Teachers were like our parents away from home. They looked after us. We really learned quite a lot from them,” said Mary Jefferson. 
Husband Thomas Jefferson, Jr., added "You’ve got to look at this school as a part of the community because it was a community school. First grade through 12th grade. What we looked forward to, when we were getting ready to graduate, was a place to live when we came home. That’s how the generation thing continued to grow.”
Thomas Jefferson the 3rd attended Hamilton Park in the 70s, his son Thomas Jefferson the 4th came here, and 7 year-old TJ 5 made the walk Monday. Jefferson says this school was forced to change under a federal desegregation order in the mid-70s. The campus became a K through 6th grade magnet school, to integrate the students. At first, Jefferson felt betrayed, fearing the neighborhood would lose its heart and soul.  
“For instance, if I’m walking to school, and I’m a senior and I have little brothers and sisters and they’re tagging along with me on our way to school, that was a big impact because we were able to look after our little brothers and sisters and we thought we were going to lose all of their identity."
But now, after decades of federal court oversight was lifted, Jefferson says things are actually better.
“However, we didn’t’ lose our identity. As long as the school is here. there’ll always be that blood running through the community.


Leaving 7 year-old second grader Thomas Jefferson the 5th to carry on the tradition. But first, he has some work to do
“You have to learn how to write, because when you get into 2nd grade the teachers aren’t going to help you that you much or help you more.”
Great grampa Thomas Jefferson Jr. will bw there to help, as he was for his son and grandson.
Click here to hear the audio
                             

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