ATLANTIC CITY — Atlantic City High School (ACHS) — a place that recalls so many wonderful memories for me and where I was the 1972 Senior Class President — is a very different place today, but still a great institution to obtain a high-school diploma.
Of course, there is always room for improvement, as press coverage and recent statistics continue to inform us, but no other high school in our area has the demographics of ACHS.
The school has approximately 2,600 students from cultural backgrounds spanning the globe, many whose families are at or below the national poverty level and many of which come from single-parent households.
Some will be the first in their families to graduate from high school and many will be the first to attend college.
There are also students with very affluent backgrounds. During the 2010-2011 school year, the student population of blacks and whites was down, but the population of Hispanics and Asians was up. During the 1960s and '70s, when I attended ACHS, it was about 60-percent black and 40-percent white. I don’t remember if “others” were even counted. At one point, we had “race” riots almost every day and policemen strolled our hallways. I fluctuated between raising my “Black Power” fist and chanting “War No More” in Vietnam War protests.
Sometimes, we hear so much negativity about ACHS and its students that I just had to go over for a visit and see for myself. I especially wanted to check in with the students. ACHS guidance counselors Darlene Lathan and Henry Winkler (yes, that’s his real name) were happy to introduce me to as many different types of students as possible.
I put it to the students, mostly seniors, like this, “Word on the street is that there are constant fights here, students get suspended all the time for not wearing their uniforms, students don’t even know who their principal is, white students can come and get a college-level education in a special wing where they don’t come in contact with the others, black students are excluded from Advanced Placement courses” — and on and went my list went.
Usually, they laughed and replied that most of the above was simply rumor or misinformation. When the guidance counselors and I told Logan, this year’s valedictorian, that some people down beach wanted to create a separate high school, he told us, “That would be totally ridiculous! An urban high school is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It’s a global world now so it’s good to get to know people from a lot of different places, with a lot of different backgrounds. You can’t learn that from a book.”
Bell's Critical Race Theory, which suggests that the U.S. legal system, among other institutions in our country, is inherently biased against non-whites, made him a controversial figure in many circles.
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"For blocks and blocks, I would hear no other language spoken but Spanish. Then, there would be blocks and blocks where occupants spoke a different language at every house: French, Wolof, a Haitian patois, Ghujurati, Arabic, Bengali. One house would have a Virgin Mary statue in the front yard and next to it, there’d be a house with verses from the Qur’an on its front door."
It’s been very weird. When I decided to self-publish my book in Dec. 2009, I did it because an agent in New York told me — and this is pre-Obama — that nobody’s interested in black history now. I said, ‘What?’ And she said, ‘Nobody is interested. That’s just the truth.’ Then, I think it was in April, HBO calls me.
Black History, Jazz and Poetry