By Gena Checki and Jo Heffner
February was Black History Month and to mark the occasion, Gateway presented the 2007 documentary “Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later.” On the morning of Sept. 23, 1957, nine African American high school students faced an angry mob of more than 1,000 white Americans protesting integration in front of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The film showed how far African Americans have come at Central High School 50 years later and how, despite progress, segregation still exists.
Mary Xiong, Multicultural program Student Support Specialist, asked Gateway students at a post-film discussion group an important question: “What did you notice in the classrooms?” Nearly all noted the same thing: The students in the film had separated themselves according to race.
The film “was able to give (Gateway) students a little bit of history of how far segregation has come,” said Ken Riley, Non-Traditional Occupations Student Support Specialist.
While integration has been in place for many years, African American students still lag behind academically at Central High School and opportunities such as sports and extracurricular activities are only available to those who have parents with the funds to pay for them. The film followed several African American students to show their daily struggles and challenges.
“I think it was a discussion we needed to have,” Xiong said about the “Little Rock” showings and discussions. “It brought together a group of students from various ethnicities and backgrounds.”
After viewing the documentary, some students expressed their opinions. Terry Chiappetta, an ESL student, believed that there still seemed to be issues between African American and white students at Central High School. She emphasized that people are human no matter what color they are. She also thought situations seemed to be changing for African Americans at Central High School, but many of them give up too easily and don’t want to learn due to low self-esteem.
“Little Rock” was shown districtwide and soul food was offered at all campuses. Students in attendance could sample fried chicken, baked chicken, catfish, rice, corn bread and macaroni and cheese. Culinary Arts students prepared the food at the Racine Campus event.
“Your main goal is to better yourself as a person,” Riley said. “You’ve got to find the resources. You’ve got to walk, you’ve got to run. Black, white, it doesn’t matter.”