When I see young men who are strong enough to challenge wrongs at the risk of personal loss, it warms my heart and renews my faith in the coming generation.
Jaisaan Lovett graduated from University Preparatory Charter School for Young Men as the valedictorian last month, with a full scholarship to Clark Atlanta University. He is the school’s first black valedictorian but was denied a chance to give the valedictorian’s speech.
For six years at school, Lovett led student protests against perceived wrongs he saw at the school, including a five day strike about school equipment. He constantly called out the principal and spoke truth to power.
The principal, Joseph Munno, didn’t care to much for this smart mouth black kid who dared challenge his decisions with peaceful protest and speeches. He couldn’t kick Lovett out of school because he was the smartest boy at school, met all of his deadlines, crossed every T and dotted every I. Denying Lovett a chance to speak at his graduation was Munno’s last way to send the smart alec student a lesson about whose in charge.
It all backfired when the mayor of the city allowed Lovett to give his graduation speech on the mayor’s official city broadcast and YouTube Channel. Thousands saw it, more than would have heard it at the graduation for the small charter school.
By the time social media passed it along, hundreds of thousands heard his speech and then it was covered on CNN.
The final remarks of his speech Lovett said,
“To Mr. Munno, my principal, there’s a whole lot of things I’ve wanted to say to you for a long time. … I’m here as the UPrep 2018 valedictorian to tell you that you couldn’t break me. I’m still here, and I’m still here strong.
“And after all these years, all this anger I’ve had toward you and UPrep as a whole, I realized I had to let that go in order to better myself. And I forgive you for everything I held against you.”
When I was student at Northeast Louisiana State College, I had a professor of Social Work who tried to have me suspended for challenging him in class. The professor taught that America was a melting pot and all who came to its shore blended together to become one- American.
I repeatedly challenged that theory claiming that melting pots require all races to lose their identity and become white. I said a drop of black paint in a gallon of white paint blends in but it disappears. The same is true for red, brown and yellow; they all disappear and become white. That’s what happens in the melting pot, all races must act white, dress white, and think white to be considered real Americans. To me, my professor was advancing an idea that implies white superiority.
I said America should be a salad bowl where black olives are expected to stay black, red tomatoes stay red, and white onions stay white. All are mixed together and make a great salad called America instead of losing their racial identity to become white.
He called me a racist and referred me to the dean’s office and accused me of constantly interrupting his class with racist ideas and questions.
The college didn’t suspend me that time, they arranged for me to have another social work instructor. They were having trouble with me because I was also challenging my American Literature teacher for omitting the works of Phyllis Wheatley, James Baldwin and other Black writers from her instruction about American literature. That got me a week’s suspension.
When I returned to class I took the examination, answered all her questions correctly and then turned my paper on the back and wrote an essay on the back of each sheet detailing the works of several black authors including Lorraine Hansberry, Paul Lawrence Dunbar and others. I closed it off with a note “You should not exclude Blacks. Learn how to give tests.”
She gave me an “F” on the exam that was large enough to cover the entire first page and wrote me a note, “You need to learn how to take tests.”
I didn’t let up in the following weeks. I failed her course, but took it over the next semester under a different instructor. I made an “A” and sent her a copy of my grade with the note, “Just wanted you to know I’m not dumb.”
Both of my grandsons get in trouble in elementary school for raising questions. They are in elementary school but they watch the news and have opinions, especially about Donald Trump. Sometimes they question those in power and rub folks the wrong way.
They won’t be punished at home as long as they follow the rules and are not disrespectful.
When I hear about it, I smile.
When I saw young Mr. Lovett’s protest I said to myself “Good for you!”
Mr. Munno meant it for bad, but he has made young Mr. Lovett a national symbol of smart young black men who are courageous enough to speak truth to power.
I love it!