Prominently displayed in a glass case outside the Service High School library is a statement typed in big, bold letters:
“The best way to hide something from black people is to put it in a book.”
A group of black students who call themselves Beautiful Colors put it up to spark conversation in a high school that has seen its student population go from predominantly white to nearly half minority within the past decade.
It is stirring up passions about blacks failing in school and raising questions among black kids about where provocation for thought ends and racism begins. Parents have called the school. Teachers have set aside class time to talk about it. And principal Lou Pondolfino called a special public meeting to discuss it.
Senior Alexander Shaw is surprised at the reaction.
“I wanted to challenge people to break the mold and evoke change,” said the self-described Filipino, Puerto Rican and black 18-year-old, who, with the group, put it up as part of a Black History Month display. Somebody showed him the quote from the Internet. It has variously been attributed to white supremacists, black activists and comedians.
Shaw defends the statement by pointing to the statistics: Last year, while blacks made up the smallest minority group at Service, they had the highest dropout rate of any ethnic group, nearly double the average, according to the school.
Some white kids, black kids, other minorities and their parents want the words taken down though.
“The statement is racist and propagating stereotypes,” said parent Nicole Howell at the gathering of 50 people in the school’s library on Friday.
Reyonna Sudduth, who is part of Beautiful Colors, said she’s glad the display has caused a commotion. She wants black kids to be motivated to prove the statement incorrect.
Service High School sits in the mostly Caucasian and well-to-do Hillside neighborhoods in South Anchorage. It used to be largely a white school until South Anchorage High School was built nearby and the public school boundaries were redrawn, bringing in more racially and economically diverse students from East Anchorage neighborhoods. Now the school is 45 percent minority, according to last year’s numbers.