When you’re a Howell student, one thought runs through your mind when you hear that your school has become the spotlight of yet another national news story.
Is this ever going to end?
There comes a point in time when I start to become self-conscious when I bring up my hometown while visiting big cities. More often than not, I am the tourist from Brighton, Michigan, a town fifteen minutes down the road in distance, but fifteen light-years away in reputation.
“I’ve gone to this life changing camp called RYLA since I was a freshman,” says junior Gabriel Seck. “There were people my freshman year who wouldn’t go near me because I was from Howell. I came home crying, hating where I was from and that I was so pale. I was judged because of where I was from. I’ve never seen people of different races as different. My parents raised us as one race. Human.”
It seems that no one has ever heard of Brighton, though it is a much bigger city. All they have heard about is Howell, the racist, redneck center for the KKK. In Howell, we don’t have our own movie theater or nightclub. And yet, we manage to make headlines consistently, and for all the wrong reasons.
“I’m proud to be a civilian of Howell, Michigan and I will defend the people of my town because I’m confident that I live in a city that is not filled with racist people, but rather people that are culprits of a never-ending negative historical occurrence,” says senior Danielle Campbell. “My family moved here for the peaceful downtown, welcoming atmosphere, and the academically sound school systems, not to be automatically accused of racism and hurtful slurs due to poor decisions made by teenagers over a basketball game, or for historical pasts.”
It just isn’t worth explaining to the locals in other cities that I’m not a racist, or that I don’t have a confederate flag bumper-sticker pasted onto the back of a big, red pick-up truck. It isn’t worth feeling uncomfortable and out of place because I must believe in “white power”.
The truth of the matter is, the majority of us are embarrassed to even hear that term used in normal conversation. There are no more Howell students using the “n” word than there are in any other school across the country. In fact, we jump at the chance to stand up against anyone choosing to use it. We aren’t afraid to go to Detroit, or scared we’ll be killed in New York City because we don’t know how to respond to a diverse culture. We don’t hold cult meetings in our corn fields in the middle of the night, and we don’t burn anyone’s houses down.
Out of the 2,500 students who attend Howell High School, three students choose to make a poor decision. In what probably took five minutes of consideration, they posted tweets involving “white supremacy” and the KKK on their Twitter feeds in regards to a local basketball final.
Now, I’ll be the first to apologize for the ignorance that those students displayed that night. I find myself disappointed in members of my generation more often than I’d like. And to Grand Blanc, I am more than sorry for the misguided actions of my peers.
There is no question in my mind that those students will regret that poor decision for the rest of their teenage lives, if not well into their adult years. After all, that five minute decision became the story of the month in less than twenty-four hours. And not just in our town. Across the nation.
“The students who tweeted these things have shown genuine remorse,” says senior Keith Hutchins. “It wasn’t right, but it happened. Maybe we as a society need to stop worrying about racism and start thinking about moving forward. It wasn’t ok, but we’re all trying to forget it.”
And he’s right. It’s embarrassing. And not just for the students who made the tweets.
But if you want to know how it grew so quickly, you can thank the other hundreds of Howell students on Twitter who were so angered by these horrible tweets that they called out their peers, took photos, and expressed their frustrations via social media. Our basketball team was appalled, our staff members were disgusted, and our students? Our students were fed up. Fed up with the ignorance of three becoming the insight that once again wrongly encompasses Howell, Michigan as a close-minded, supremacy-obsessed, hick-town USA.
Our reputation precedes us, fairly or unfairly.
But we have news for everyone. News that is worthy of becoming a headline.
There is more to us than our past.
“Racism has become the minority and the new battle is our own self image,” says junior Dan Rose. “We spend more time paying attention to what people do, say, and have rather than on who you are.”
Being a local journalist and a senior at Howell High, I often find myself involved in local school debates, having meetings with administration members, and interviewing students about controversial subjects. There have been times where I have publicly explained a personal opinion against a decision the school has made, or times when I have disagreed with my student body. But if there is anything I have learned over the years, it’s that Howell has one of the best education systems in the state.
Accomplishments fill the school hallways here. We have National Merit finalists, an award-winning choir program, a drama program that rivals many professional theatres, extremely talented and honorable sports players, students who are consistently making the paper for fundraising and assisting those who are in need, and an academic program that keeps up well with the pack.
One student, after a recent suicide in the school, stepped up and started a Suicide Prevention Group that has helped saved lives.
An elementary school student saw that his peers didn’t have enough money for warm lunches, so he started a fundraiser to pay off the debt of every student lunch account in the school.
A group of students created a care package for a janitor at the school who spent many “snow days” personally shoveling sidewalks to keep students safe.
All of these projects took hours of dedication, time, and effort.
But none of these made national headlines. Just the tweets of three.
Should we monitor the Twitter feeds of every other high school in the United States? It’d be interesting to see what we’d discover about teenagers as a whole. While the nation has been focusing on the negative tweets of few, some of us have been celebrating the posts of those who choose to stand up.
I think that adds up to many, many more than three.
Everyone is equal. And we all deserve an even playing field. That includes the students at Howell High School, and the basketball players who lost their well-deserved spotlight and no small amount of their pride. Many congratulations to the team for their win.
Let’s put our focus on that. Because, in twenty years, that’s what those students deserve to be able to look back and remember. Not the swirling news stories about Howell “racism” and “ignorance.”