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the real college admissions scandal is about race

April 12, 2019
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The college admissions scandal has all the makings of a future Oscar-winning movie. As the story started to unfold, social media made jokes about Lori Loughlin — who used to play Aunt Becky on Full House — as well as other celebrities like Felicity Huffman that spent upwards of a million dollars getting their children into college illegally. However, despite all the jokes there was another conversation happening that was being overshadowed by this episode of “when white people have all the privilege and still want more.” That conversation centers Black folks who are currently incarcerated for doing nothing more than wanting their kids to attend a better elementary school.

Do you remember a Black woman by the name of Kelly Williams-Bolar? You probably have never heard of her, or ever seen her name in the news for more than a day or two. There was no trust fund or pay offs or viral moments and memes. Back in 2011, Kelly falsified her address so that her two daughters could enroll in a better school district. She was not only found guilty of the crime, but served nine days in jail, was placed on 3 years of probation and forced to do 80 hours of community service. Another case of how the system treats Black folks much differently than white folks who use their privilege to attain better for their already privileged children.

You have probably never heard of Tonya McDowell either. Tanya was a homeless single Black mother who sent her son to a school in Norwalk Connecticut, instead of her town of Bridgeport hoping to get her child a better education. In 2012 she used her babysitters address to enroll her son in Kindergarten. After being caught, she was charged with felony larceny for “stealing” $15,000 in educational resources from the district. Tanya was also carrying narcotics at the time of arrest and the state included all charges in the same case. Tanya was sentenced to 12 years in jail, with the sentence suspended after she serves 5 years, with an additional 5 years of probation.  

What Kelly and Tanya did is not uncommon in America? Many parents have and continue to use the addresses of relatives and friends to get their children into better schools. Rarely are they jailed for it, if ever charged with an actual crime. Speaking from experience, I was a kid who used my grandmothers address to attend elementary school, as did my little brother. The school was much closer to her house, and that is where my cousins went to school. It made more sense for us all to go there so we could walk home together afterwards. I could never imagine my parents being sent to jail for simply sending us to a different public school in our city out of our zone.

Just a month ago, only 7 Black kids got into N.Y.’s most selective high school, a number that has dwindled from 13 two years ago, to ten last year. The K-12 system in America for Black folks has become a bit like the hunger games. Many states have shifted to this system of having charter schools, where students typically receive more resources and assistance than those who attend public schools. Black children are literally being placed into a lottery system with the hopes of getting into a better school. Those who make it in, have the opportunity of a lifetime to be fed through a pipeline of “success”. Those who don’t often end up at public schools with less resources that directly feed into the school-to-prison pipeline that continues to harm Black children.

White people who had money, access, and power that could have taken the traditional route of buying a building or making a donation, still cheated a system they have all the power in. Even when they have all the privilege in the world, it was still not enough for them. Although they have been indicted federally, we all know how this story goes. We have seen it time and time again that white folks who commit these types of crimes often face no penalty—as opposed to Black parents who are sitting in jail for simply wanting better for their children. As recent as this week, it was stated that Lori Loughlin thought it was a joke when she rejected the first plea offer — never thinking she might have to actually serve jail time.

For Black and brown people the rules are different. Our children, even when they get to college still struggle with affordability—often seeing college as a way out of poverty while white kids are simply using it as the next step in pipeline that guarantees them success. For Black parents we are facing real life consequences for actions far less than what white folk are doing. For Black parents, there is no joke and none of this is a laughing matter. Our kids’ lives are at stake.

Writer and author, George Johnson is bringing our viral conversations to real life situations.