Compton Caesar Chavez High School Senior Wins $5,000 Scholarship in Essay Contest
Linard Thomas' "No More Excuses" was selected as Grand Prize Winner in History Comes Alive in Compton Essay Contest - Shon Smith for D'Angelo's PhotosThree Honorable Mentions Receive $1,000 Scholarships
Junior and senior students from Compton Unified School District's four high schools participated in the City of Compton's "History Comes Alive in Compton" essay contest that drew over 600 entries. Students were asked to write essays on the role of the Civil Rights Movement in America. The awards will be announced Wednesday, September 30, 2009 during a ceremony featuring civil rights icon Ambassador Andrew Young. The essay contest was sponsored in part by the City of Compton, the Compton Athletic Foundation, the Compton Unified School District, and Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Los Angeles.
The top prize of a $5,000 college scholarship, went to Caesar Chavez Continuation High School senior Linard Thomas for his essay "No More Excuses."
Honorable mention awards of $1,000 college scholarships each went to Donnie King, a junior at Centennial High School; Vincent Torres, a senior at Dominguez High School; and Francesca Katarina Zuckerman, a senior at Compton High School.
"RBI Los Angeles is proud to support the efforts of Compton in bringing back baseball," commented John T. Young, baseball legend and founder of RBI Los Angeles. "As Major League Baseball's first African American director of scouting, I can tell you how important it is to give kids the opportunity to develop their talent and skills on the baseball field. The teamwork and self-esteem will carry these youths through their lives and provide a positive experience that will motivate them to go on and do great things in life."
No More Excuses Grand Prize Winning Essay
History Comes Alive in Compton
By Linard Thomas
Cesar Chavez Continuation High School
The United States has a glorious history. We are the most powerful and influential country in the world today. Our constitution is the oldest in the world. It is a blueprint for our democratic government, and spells out the laws which we live by. People across the world risk their lives to seek out the opportunities that America has to offer. For people to risk their life to be part of a country that provides freedom for all to have an equal opportunity says to me that we live in a great nation. People have the opportunity to thrive and pursue what makes them happy. Happiness is different for some. For me it is a blessing to enjoy the life I have and the family that brought me into this world. My family makes me happy as they continue to help support and provide a chance for me to make something more of myself. It inspires me to do well in school, so that I too may support them the way they have supported me. With Barack Obama the becoming President of the United States, everything has changed for the better. President Obama has come from a single parent, is African American, and is now one of the most powerful men in the world. He has set the example for all of us. There are no more excuses not to make a better life and world for ourselves.
My life has not always been as good as I have it made it sound. Like all, I have had my ups and downs. Over time, I have worked hard to overcome those obstacles that have crossed my path. I have also made mistakes. This is similar to the United States. As great a country we live in, I understand that it has not always been perfect. Like me, the country is continually trying to grow into a more perfect state. The United States is tarnished with the ugly history of African slavery. In the mid-1800's our country fought a brutal war, which led to the freedom of my ancestors. Slavery ended under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Unfortunately, he was not able to witness and oversee the reconstruction of the Southern States, where majority of Africans lived. Congress and the northern states passed several new amendments to the constitution. One of which was the 14th amendment.
The 14th amendment did several things for the former slaves. It gave them the right to vote. It also, gave them citizenship, and equal protection under the laws of the United States constitution. In the south, there had even been several blacks who eventually where voted into congress. Although this seems as if the country had taken a turn for the better, as it turned out, reconstruction was not implemented the way it had been drawn up.
Southern whites never really accepted the new laws that had been passed. They found ways to get around these new laws by establishing what is known today as Jim Crow Laws. These laws, implemented in the southern states, prevented the former slaves, and new citizens of African decent, from voting. These laws required that the grandparents of citizens must have voted in order for anyone else in there family to vote. The problem with this is that the grandparents for these African Americans what that their grandparents had been born into slavery, thus never having the chance to vote. Other laws preventing African Americans to vote, included paying poll taxes, which required payment prior to voting, taking reading and writing tests, although no education had ever been provided. The equal protection clauses provided by the 14th amendment was off to a very rocky beginning.
Less than 40 years after the end of the civil war, a man named Homer Adolph Plessy boarded a train in New Orleans. He had purchased a first class ticket. Upon his boarding onto the train, he was approached by a white porter that advised he must move to the colored section of the train. Although he had paid for the first class ticket, he was still required to sit in the colored section. Eventually, Plessy sued the state of Louisiana, and this case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately for African Americans, the court advised that the 14th amendment assured "absolute equality of the two races before the law, but it could not have been intended to abolish distinction based upon color or to enforce social equality" (1). This interpretation of the 14th amendment would set a precedent to last another 50 years. Separate but equal would be the law of the land, in particular, the southern states.
To think back at the conditions my forefathers had to endure does not make me feel good. Black schools where not equal. The black class rooms where shacks, that held two times as many students it was built for. They did not have lockers, a cafeteria, a gymnasium or adequate bathrooms. School buses where hand me downs from the whites. Black schools where not offered as many courses. Teachers where not paid the same at a black school. Yet, since they where being offered an education, the southern states considered this to be equal under the law of the 14th amendment.
Segregation was forced upon the blacks by the white majority. Blacks had never been asked if they would like to be segregated. 90% of the country was white and therefore blacks had no other choice but to accept this. Until a 9 year old Linda Brown and her family decided to take a stand. Linda Brown had a long journey every day. To get to school, she had to walk two miles to get to a bus stop. Prior to the bus stop she had to cross a busy train depot. Once she completed the two mile walk, she had to wait for a bus to take her the last five miles. If the bus was on time, she had to wait another 30 minutes for the school to open. Her father, Oliver Brown had tried to check her into a school only 7 blocks away. Unfortunately they where denied, as this was a white only school. This lead to Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas.
The case drew the attention of the NAACP (The National Association of the Advancement of Colored People). This was a non profit organization that fought for the rights of and advancement of colored people. Charles Houston started this organization. He brought along a bright lawyer, who had studied law under him named Thurgood Marshall. The strategy was to prove there was a built in sense of superiority whites had put on the black community. Thurgood Marshall had experience and success fighting other cases before the Supreme Court. He had been a charitable man. Marshall had on many occasions lowered his fees, if not worked for free to defend those who needed him. His strategy for the case was to prove that blacks felt a sense of inferiority to the whites. He framed the argument around the "equal protection " provision of the 14th amendment. He felt the time had come for schools to become integrated. Marshall had also stated that blacks had never agreed to segregation.
Chief Justice Earl Warren had been a judge in California, known for making tough, but just decisions. He had recently been appointed to the Supreme Court prior to hearing the Brown case. After hearing all the arguments, he felt it was important for the judges to come to a unanimous decision. In his statement he mentions how education is perhaps the most important part of a state and local government. With this ruling, came the end of segregation. It has forever changed our country for the best. Having the ability to go to school with other races is an opportunity to learn and grow with them. This was not an easy road, as many states resisted the change. The federal government had to step in on many occasions, so that blacks could get the opportunity of an integrated education.
Perhaps the best example of desegregation is Jackie Robinson. Although he broke the color lines, he could attest to the fact that once he was allowed to play in the Major Leagues, life was not automatically better. In fact, he had to deal with an even more hostile racial environment. Not only was he treated poorly in the cities where he traveled to play baseball, but within his own team.
In writing this essay, it has given me some mixed feelings. I have come to the conclusion that we, African Americans, are not taking advantage of our free education. With the election of Barack Obama, I feel there are no more excuses. Our country has come a long way since it's' origins. Change has been slow, but it has happened. It continues to happen. I look forward to being part of the positive changes in the future.
Linard Thomas' essay won the $5,000 scholarship grand prize in the History Comes Alive in Compton Essay Contest. Linard is a senior at Cesar Chavez Continuation High School in Compton, California. He can be reached at