A divided Central 

Student's essay gets wide play.

ESSAYIST: Brandon Love.
  • ESSAYIST: Brandon Love.

It was just supposed to be a college essay. A brief sketch of personality, life ambitions and victories.

But the essay that Central High School senior Brandon Love wrote for Vanderbilt University (better known to many, now, as “A Tale of Two Centrals”) has gotten some serious play.

The essay was first printed in the April newsletter of a Texas-based organization called the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA). The non-profit had been in Little Rock months before, working with students from Central and Parkview Magnet High School, including Brandon, and speaking to community members about the legendary civil rights cases Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka and Mendez v. Westminster. Its goal was to create community dialogue and action. And it did.

A few weeks ago, Brandon walked into school and was informed by a teacher that the essay had been sent — from a specially created e-mail address, falsely listed under the name of Central Principal Nancy Rousseau — to every e-mail account in the district. All Brandon could think was “wow.”

“It was never intended for everyone to read,” Brandon said. “When I wrote it, I was more or less just trying to display my strengths or weaknesses.”

But people did read it.

And although the piece is eloquent and engaging, the reasons why may have less to do with Brandon himself than the time in which it has been published — the 50th anniversary of the 1957 desegregation of Central, which has coincided with the district’s release from federal supervision and the furor surrounding the Little Rock School Board’s political divide along color lines over the future of Superintendent Roy G. Brooks’ employment.

Brandon’s essay tackled the race issue. He wrote about being a border walker — a black student who crossed the “imaginary line” drawn by Advanced Placement classes. He wrote frankly about how this made him feel, and he painted a Central scene in which race is still very much on the minds of many.

School Board member Larry Berkley read the essay several weeks ago, when it was first plastered in electronic mailboxes throughout the district.

“I know it takes courage to speak out like that,” he said. “And I’m glad he spoke out. We need to know what’s going on in the minds of these kids.”

But Berkley was also dismayed.

“There are many people in this community who have tried to get us to move past race,” he said, expressing exasperation over the fact that it continues, he said, to be a “primary issue.”

The record, he said, does show that Central has made efforts to integrate black students into AP classes. In a letter responding to Brandon’s essay, Rousseau and Guidance Department Chair Leslie Kearney cite numbers.

There were 274 black students in AP classes during the 2004-05 school year, they wrote. In 2006-07, the number jumped by 30 percent to 357. The guidance office has been offering a program for the past two years that’s designed to get black students into pre-AP and AP classes.

“The stereotypes and innuendoes that Brandon Love has encountered are obviously real,” they wrote in the letter. But the school, they said, is making an institutional attempt to address the inequalities and break down what has been an acknowledged dividing line.


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