It’s 1 am, and rap music is blaring loudly from Luke’s speakers. And even though I’ve had a long day, flying for 10 hours in the morning to South Africa, touring museums, and visiting a school, I am wide awake. I’m laughing along with Luke and his friend Richard. We’re talking about everything from music to girls. We’re not thinking about the time, but I am thinking about how unlikely it is that this moment would be happening in New York City.
Despite the profound academic nature of many of the activities my classmates and I participated in on our trip to Johannesburg, the most enlightening experience of all was living with Luke and his family. He was introduced as my homestay host earlier in the day when we visited his high school campus, Sacred Heart College.
Having heard the steep price of tuition at the school, I had an inkling that Luke’s family was fairly well off, and when I walked across their yard and passed the pool at the entrance to their beautiful, contemporary home, it became very apparent to me that Luke and I came from and lived in very different worlds.
Luke’s father is a financial analyst and his mother is a university professor. My parents immigrated to the States from the Dominican Republic in hopes of finding better means to support their families back home, and to further their own ambitions.
Luke’s high school is racially diverse, thanks to a history of being actively defiant against bigotry and xenophobia. Democracy Prep has given me a multifaceted education, but I was never presented with many chances to interact with kids my own age who are white.
Despite all these external factors that could have driven Luke and me apart, I found that we were very much kindred spirits. He was a free-spirited, charismatic guy who didn’t take himself too seriously. I developed a level of intimacy with Luke that may have taken me years to develop with others.
Interacting with Luke, his family, and other Sacred Heart students over the next few days made me take note of the invisible yet completely palpable wall that exists between me and many of the white people I meet in my daily life. It made me think about the “veil” that W.E.B. Dubois often wrote about.
The ease with which I watched students of all different shades interact with each other gave me a feeling of calm and safety that I wish every Democracy Prep student could feel.
It’s not as if it’s impossible for me to talk to white people and not feel anxious, but it has never been so easy and intuitive as it was during my time in Johannesburg. I can only hope that the same intuitiveness comes to me when I step through the Van Wickle Gates at Brown University this fall.
About the Author
Lemuel B. is a graduate of Democracy Prep Charter High School. He is heading to Brown University for his freshman year in the fall.