Facing the Challenges of Integration

In the 1970s, Earline and Lorenzo Hooper volunteered to bus their daughters, Paula and Emily, from the Moreland neighborhood to Malvern. (Older brother Sam Hooper, SHHS ’75, attended Moreland.)

Lorenzo served on the citizens’ committee that helped form the Shaker Schools Plan. Paula, who taught at Fernway Elementary from 1985-88, now works as a science educator, most recently for the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Emily is the associate director of community arts and engagement for the Levin Center of the Arts at the University of Chicago. Both reflect on their experiences here.

Paula Hooper

Paula Hooper, SHHS ’79:

There were about 30 African-American kids who got on the bus to go to Malvern every day. I remember it was a big deal going to lunch at a white friend’s house across the street from the school.

There were things that happened in school that made me realize something was different. I was in the middle group for math, and I really wanted to be in the higher group. I remember asking my teacher what I could do to move up, and her response was, “You don’t need to move up – you’re fine where you are.” There was a feeling there that I just didn’t understand.

At the High School, I remember being one of only three African-American kids in an upper level class where the teacher treated us horribly. But my English teacher, Mr. Vargo, was incredibly supportive – he made me feel like I was really smart.

My trajectory was impacted by the integration at Shaker in both positive and negative ways. Learning how to deal with all types of people was a positive. On the other hand, there was a subtle kind of racism that I felt was constraining the experience that African-American kids had at Shaker.

Emily Hooper LansanaEmily Hooper Lansana, SHHS ’84:

In elementary school, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about white friends or black friends, we were just friends. In junior high, the social landscape changed. Racial lines were drawn and you had to be careful about crossing them. At the High School, it was pretty much the same. The black kids sat on one side of the cafeteria and the white kids sat on the other side.

I had a diverse group of friends, and we wanted to support other students in having diverse friendships. We started what was called the Student Group on Race Relations (SGORR), and the focus of our work was to have High School students go into the elementary schools and talk to kids about friendship and peer pressures and the fact that it should be okay to cross lines to make friends, to be who you wanted to be.

I think the important thing about the way it happened was that the idea came from a group of students, and we received the administrative support that we needed in order to activate the program. I think there are a lot of other places where, if a student came up with this idea, they wouldn’t have had the support to make it happen.

As an African-American female student I experienced the opportunity to have access to a wonderful education, and when I am looking at the teachers my children have, I often compare them to the amazing teachers I had when I was growing up. As someone who works in the realm of arts education, those early influences were really important to me.

“Even in a liberal community like Shaker, we can’t assume that there are not the realities of cultural inequity and insensitivity that need to be addressed.”

On the other hand, I was often one of only a handful of African-American students in upper level courses, despite the fact that our school was about equally divided between white and black students.

Even in a liberal community like Shaker, we can’t assume that there are not the realities of cultural inequity and insensitivity that need to be addressed, and can be addressed more directly and more consciously.

I think that because I grew up in an environment where we were aware of cultural challenges and experienced inequity that I have been committed to social justice. I have stayed in touch with many of my friends that I grew up with, and many of them have also remained committed to social justice in the work that they do and the way they live their lives.