We are all familiar with the horrid destruction of our Kansas City school district. For years now, our education centers have glided down a slope. With all of its negativity being the center focus in media, people fail to recall that not every school is doomed. One of those schools is Lincoln College Preparatory.
Lincoln, prominent even today, serves grades six to 12. Last year, the students did an outstanding job on the MAP. The sixth grade class scored 86 percent in communication arts and 80 percent in math. The state average, however, was a mere 51 percent and 58 percent. The seventh grade class scored a high 95 percent in communication arts and an astounding 100 percent in math. The state average was only 54 percent and 56 percent. The eighth grade class did not score quite as well, but did excel the state average earning a 59 percent in science (state average: 50 percent), 80 percent in communication arts (state average: 53 percent), and 67 percent in math (state average: 52 percent).
The other day, as I was packing up boxes in preparation for our family’s move, I stumbled upon a book titled Black America Series: Kansas City by Delia C. Gillis. Deciding to take a break, I sat on the couch and flipped through its pages. That’s when I ran across a section about Lincoln.
Lincoln opened in 1936. The center was known simply as Lincoln High School and was given the nickname “Castle on the Hill.” The author states that LHS “was noted for its excellent teachers.” Dr. Girard T. Bryant was among the prominent staff. He taught history at Lincoln, and then moved on to become the first African-American to serve on the KC police board. This achievement undoubtedly opened the door for our first black Police Chief, Darryl Forte (yes, we’re related), who was sworn in on October 13, 2011.
Despite the unfair work conditions and salaries fueled by racism, “Lincoln High School was the educational base for Kansas City’s ‘talented tenth.’” The concept of the talented tenth was originated by W.E.B. DuBois. It’s the idea that one in 10 black people will become leaders of their race. Among these influential graduates of Lincoln was 1928 valedictorian Lucile Bluford. She became a well-respected editor and publisher of The Kansas City Call. Legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker was a member of the Lincoln alumni club. The first African-American faculty member of UMKC, Dr. Hazel Browne Williams, graduated from Lincoln, too. My mother-in-law, Lillie Forte-Rhodeman (check out her insight on multi-tasking in the News section of this issue), is a Lincoln scholar, class of 1971.
After reading the history of this high school, I pondered, “What happened to us?” Though Lincoln thrives, Kansas City has an infamous reputation regarding education, especially since completely losing our accreditation this year. My daughter will begin kindergarten this fall. My husband and I absolutely refuse to send her to a public school. She is just too smart and education is too precious to gamble it away given the present circumstances.
I strongly believe that before substantial change can take place on the outside, something deeper needs to happen on the inside. Superintendents keep quitting on us. Consequently, we have lost all faith and hope for ourselves. Something emotionally and spiritually needs to take place to invoke a sense of belief and will to succeed. I’m sure Lincoln is not the only school that has done well in the past and continues to do well in the present. The board should look to these neighboring charter/private schools for advice on what keeps them commendable. After all, we personally look to individuals in our history to serve as sources of inspiration and motivation. Why not use that same practice to restore our schools?
Gillis says Lincoln students are known for three things: their school spirit, their preserving of the school’s African-American roots, and their impact on the community. I believe that if these same three principles become the core basis for every KCPSD school, then – and only then – will we see a remarkable change, transforming our current disposition of embarrassment to a powerful message of prevail.
To learn more about other remarkable black people and places of Kansas City, purchase Black America Series: Kansas City by Delia C. Gillis, available at our UMKC Bookstore.