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Learning from the Past

By Christopher Dill

I attended Bryan Adams High School in Dallas, Texas from 1971 to 74. Court ordered busing was instigated my first year with about 600 inner city blacks bused in to a predominantly white school of about 3,000.

Everything was fine for the first few months, then there was the first fight between a black and white student at lunch time. The brothers of both fighters jumped in and it quickly spread but was stopped minutes later.

However, the line had been crossed and at lunch the next day, two groups of white and black students faced each other across the tennis court, which was basically our quad. Security, coaches and some teachers kept the two groups apart. You could slice the tension it was so thick.

Suddenly, two senior hippies (yeah, this was back in the days) walked out onto the center of the tennis court and began circling each other, like WWF wrestlers.

Nobody, including the staff knew what they were doing until they began 'wrestling', including, head locks, begging for mercy, etc. Both groups of whites and black were roaring with laughter, cheering these two clowns on. Totally broke the ice.

There were no more problems the rest of the year, until the last week of school. Then some trouble maker put up racist flyers and we had our first full on riot the last day of school involving upwards of 200 students. Kids got hurt, but school was over for the summer.

Unfortunately, the black students took it on the chin that day, so the first day of school the following year, a large group of black students, about 80 -100, attacked a group of about a dozen white students. Ironically, the white students were hippies and I was one of them.

They backed us up into the lunch room where the majority of students were still eating lunch. The fighting spread into the cafeteria, then throughout the school. The papers said 500-700 students were involved. I thought that was conservative considering the scope o f the riot. This was the worst rioting ever at a US high school, before or since. Worse than South Boston, worse than Central High in Arkansas.

Ambulances pulled up to the back of the school and I carried a buddy down to the clinic. We played on the soccer team and his face was cut open by a belt buckle. I then snuck out to the parking lot with some other friends to get away. We saw students getting jumped by roving gangs of other students as we drove off, an unforgettable image and memory.

The next day, the riot squad, or swat team, was stationed at our school. There were at least twenty police cars parked around the perimeter and every hallway had at least two, sometimes four uniformed and plains-clothes policemen. This level of security remained pretty much in place for the first semester, then was scaled back for the second semester. Suffice to say, there was no fighting the rest of the year.

When I returned my senior year, everyone pretty much thought the problems were over. Security was greatly reduced and things remained calm...until the last week of school when tensions began to mount.

There were a couple of incidents, then the last day got real ugly. A large group of white students from other schools and white non- students from outlying areas showed up with bats, clubs, etc., to confront the blacks getting on the buses. These same buses had been stoned a year earlier in an 'ambush' of sorts.

The police were there this day, but not nearly enough to contain the situation. Fighting broke out, debris was thrown, but the black students got onto their buses and escaped this mob. I will never forget the look on some of their faces. Fear mainly, which no doubt later turned to anger.

I graduated, there were a few incidents the next year and not long after court ordered busing ceased in Dallas at any rate. All in all, it was a disaster for most of the white students I talked with years later (I never ran into any black students). People were embittered by the experience and only had their prejudices reinforced, certainly not healed.

It took me quite awhile to get over it and I now realized just how much my high school years were affected by the turmoil, especially academically and socially. The atmosphere was poisoned by the violence.

The administration carted out the usual standard ineffective solutions such as forming endless committees and discussion groups to improve race relations and “move forward.”

The same people who participated in these charades had absolutely no influence or credibility amongst the student population who probably viewed these students -- as I did – as opportunists simply padding their resumes for college. You never saw these kids out trying to break up fights or stave off potential fights, like me and my hippie friends did later, once we were seniors.

By the way, I spoke with some blacks after we hippies were attacked and asked them why we hippies WERE attacked -- since we were the ones who were actually cool with blacks being bused into the school, compared with the redneck types who were typical southern racists and against it.

I was told it was because we had long hair and "looked like girls." I was baffled then. Now, I think it was a merely a lack of REAL communication and interaction between the two cultures. In other words, I think if we had parties with these same blacks... there would be no problems.

How could this be done now? Don't get me started, but you can't simply get a small diverse group of smart students together in a classroom to come up with simplistic solutions to very complicated problems, and the problem of race relations in greater Los Angeles is much more complicated and evolving.

There has to be an active change in the culture of the school. You have to get very large groups of students, say the entire grade together, in Barnum Hall and get the students up on stage who are causing the problems and let them answer to their peers. Most likely, it would be a humbling experience.

Also, the administration has to be clever. The two seniors who staged the mock wrestling match probably had a greater effect at diffusing tension than all the security, committees, and endless discussions combined.

The administration might want to consider a similar tactic though I doubt they will, but keep in mind, as Mark Twain said, nothing stands against the onslaught of humor. Get students laughing together and they may Not take themselves and their conflicts so seriously.

Another idea is to play classical music at lunch time. Police departments are starting to do this in major cities in the US and Europe and it has proven to be effective in reducing crime and cleaning up crime ridden areas. It has a soothing effect on people. Some don't like it, but it will definitely set a particular tone that may be conducive to non-violence.

At any rate, do not play rap on campus, or any other popular music for that matter. The students can and will listen to that stuff all they want outside of school. Introduce a little mainstream culture, I say.

Another suggestion... recently my son went to the SAMOHI Alumni Awards and spoke with a '65 alum. She told him that back then, they got 1 hour and 15 minutes for lunch and most kids would go down to the beach and hang out, swim, surf, just generally have a good respite at the beach.

My own personal suggestion -- a big beach party for the entire school, well supervised and organized with food, games, music (reggae), etc. In fact, the SAMOHI Surf Club put on such a party last summer at the end of school. Hardly anybody from the school showed up but we had a blast anyway.

But what do I know...I'm just a surfer. I can't even get my calls returned by the administration or district concerning the surf program at SAMOHI. I doubt they would be interested in what I have to say about the current problems on campus. I'm sure they don't need my help.

Do I think these problems will get worse? I have no idea. Did I see it coming? I did indeed. My kids tell me about every fight and altercation because they know what their dad went through.

I do know one thing... each time my kids tell me about a fight or altercation, the incidents seem to get worse and worse...and this DOES remind me of my high school years. So, if anybody does has a line in with the district or administration, feel free to forward my opinion... for what it's worth.

Christopher Dill has two children at Samohi and is a volunteer surf coach.

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