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Class of '83

By Kathy Y. Wilson · August 14th, 2013 · Kathy Y. Wilson
On the last day of eighth grade at Forest Park Middle School in June 1979, my mostly black class of soon-to-be incoming high school freshmen was gathered in the gymnasium, its infamous sallow light emanating from caged government-issue fixtures to protect the bulbs from errant volleyballs and kickballs we’d never again smack and kick as children.

We’d soon be young adults in the time it took the principal to make his “important announcement” that was also cagily made in the absence of our parents.

Alongside Sherri Picket, Mina Jones, Mike Pitts, Charles Wooten, Karla Hunter, LeRay Aaron, Lisa Atkinson, Daphne Dickens and a small gaggle of other friends I’d been with in fifth through the eighth grades and whose names I cannot recall, we were told we who lived on one side of Hanover Road in Forest Park would continue onto Forest Park High School.

If we lived on the other side of this main east-to-west artery, we’d be bussed to Greenhills High School.

Greenhills High School?

Where the hell is that?

Turns out it’s less than two miles south of the bedroom community/increasingly black enclave where we lived. We just never had any cause to drive that way; our church, grocery store, friends and relatives weren’t in that direction.

In the gymnasium came an audible groan and the din of chatter.

What side do you live on?

What side do you live on?

Adolescent friendships cannot survive negative spaces.

The place we spent the most time together was snatched away.

We were splitting up and those of us surviving divorce knew what this meant: Preferential treatment, distance, though we lived in the same neighborhood, and Earth-shifting change when, added to acne, menstrual cycles, uncooperative bodies, strange bodily odors, sexual experimentation and newer — and, for we, the newly forcibly bussed — whiter social cliques, could add up to teen angst worthy of a John Hughes film.

My older brother and two older stepbrothers already attended FPHS and I was looking forward to acting like I didn’t see them in the hallways while simultaneously and quietly enjoying the unspoken security and literal protection of having, well, an older brother and two older stepbrothers at the same school.

I thought I wanted to be a Wilson in that school; however, my siblings reported home with tales of drug sales, metal detectors (new! and shocking! for the time), overcrowded and rowdy classrooms, exasperated teachers.

I didn’t know this then, but the completion of I-75 South through the West End obliterated large swaths of public housing and many of those black folks migrated over to Over-the-Rhine, sending OTR’s Appalachian whites to Price Hill, Western Hills and Northside.

Many of the blacks dislodged from the West End came north — like their southern ancestors before them went to Chicago, Detroit, New York and Ohio — to suburbs like Forest Park newly and speedily vacated by suburban whites.

Forest Park today is largely black and Hispanic.

When my parents Clarence and Gladine remarried for the second time and we moved to 908 HolyOke Drive in the cul de sac, we joined the Cottons and the Bests among the handful of black families on that street.

By the time my parents divorced, my mother moved out and my father remarried and our stepmother and her kids crowded in, the white families on our street were scant.

The middle school principal sent us home for the summer with letters from the board of education explaining its no-discussion decision, writing neatly around the fact that Greenhills was in trouble for its woeful lack of minority students; we’d also heard rumors the NAACP had instigated a lawsuit forcing the district to get it some Negro children ASAP.

Further, houses weren’t being sold to enough minority families.

When that summer was over we got our black asses on the bus.

We expected the worst.

We rode the bus stiff-backed, ready for all-out race war.

We weren’t comforted by our white bus driver’s choice of WEBN on the radio.

It was the beginning of mornings soundtracked by Led Zeppelin, Cheap Trick, the Rolling Stones, The Knack, the Beatles, the token Jimi Hendrix and AC/DC until we reached a compromise alternating her station with “ours” so we also got to hear some Shalamar, Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament, Prince, Michael Jackson, Zapp and Cameo.

They were ready for us.

We were given activity busses so anyone in extracurriculars could always have a ride home. The district hired Annie Wade, a black assistant principal.

Sure, I got some sideway looks in the halls, but I was also my boisterous, sardonic nerdy self without the shady racial reverb black kids throw at black kids who “act white” by being articulate and studious.

I tested into advanced placement history and English classes, and Cathleen Arnold, my English teacher all four years, was the first person other than my mother to call me a writer. 

The late Ron Glass, my Western cultures teacher, caught my dyslexia and let me take his infamous weekly 100-question multiple-choice quizzes sitting beside him explaining my answers.

To my chagrin, I wasn’t called “nigger,” something I anticipated and assumed would happen.

Last Friday was our 30th reunion.

I haven’t been to one since the 10-year reunion because, while we got along just fine, high school was still one ginormous segregated lunchroom table of cliques and that 10-year reunion was a grown-up mirror image — me and Mina Jones, used-to-be-but-not-quite best friends since fifth grade, in a corner surveying the landscape and being overrun by tanning-bed tan (former) cheerleaders clutching draft beers.

The smart, popular girl and her wise-ass outlier sidekick.

High school redux in a suburban saloon.

Been there. Drank that.

In 2008 I was banished from the reunion website for jokingly dropping an f-bomb.

At Greenhills’ class reunions, few other blacks show up because there’s no forced bussing to high school reunions.

But who I became would’ve been drastically more predictable if I hadn’t been bussed in 1979.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: letters@citybeat.com



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