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Vantage point

Breaking the barrier


I attended an all-white school during my elementary years. When I moved to seventh grade, I went to a new junior high school with several hundred students. Only two of those students were black.

On that first day I stood near the end of a line of boys being issued lockers for physical education. I was uncomfortable in my new element. It would take me considerable time (and a few swats) to become adjusted. But on this first day, God did something great for me.

The new school had been underfunded, so when we started there were only half the number of gym lockers needed. This meant two boys shared each locker. Guys who wanted to share lockers stood together as the coach went down the line issuing numbers. But there was no one I knew in the class. When the coach came to me, there were just two of us left, so I was assigned a locker with a boy I didn’t know. He was one of the black students.

I was forced into a new relationship. The only difficulty I recall was being pressed into a close situation with a new person; race was not an issue. Willie Mays was my hero. And there was no overt persecution that I saw. But I became aware of certain stereotypes and slang words in the language of young boys of that era. I remember wincing when certain things were said with Sam in earshot.

It forced me to clean up my own act, and to be aware of the subtle ways people could be denigrated. Sam became a friend. And later he became a medical doctor. He was easily one of the most intelligent boys in our school. Like Jackie Robinson, he stepped up to the plate and hit a home run, significantly dispelling racial stereotypes in our community.

And I was blessed to see it happen. Though I was last in the gym line that day, I got to be first in the integration line. I learned a lesson for a lifetime.

Ken Horn

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