This country is in a state of ‘turmoil,’ finding itself talking about race more often than not. Our society throws terms, like ‘turmoil’ or ‘justice’ or ‘race’, around like fists of shredded paper towels, too scared to stand beneath them. I’d like to take a moment from writing poetry to say that our country is not in a state of ‘turmoil,’ it is turmoil. Our country was born from struggle. There has always been an us, the Americans, and a them, the British; a North and South; and unfortunately a man-made separation between black and white.
It is this last point that is most evident in the Trayvon Martin case, the Ferguson riots, the recent developments on the University of Missouri’s campus; and, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) findings against Chestnut Hill College in the case of Allan Michael Meads. A model African-American student, director, actor, and volunteer was expelled on unfair grounds and harshly escorted off the premises with only weeks until his graduation in 2012 after his production of ‘A Raisin In The Sun’ debuted on campus due to an alleged misappropriation of funds. Today, November 23rd, after fighting an uphill legal battle for the past couple of years, his case is finally gaining some traction.
Allan Michael Meads (left) in his starring role of the production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at Chestnut Hill College.
As a member of the cast for ‘A Raisin In The Sun,’ I honestly didn’t think that a play about race relations would have such an impact on the director’s life in the very same way. Through auditions and rehearsals, building sets and finding wardrobe and props, it became clear, at least to me, that as the first all African American production at Chestnut Hill College (CHC) our play would always be more.
Mead, the cast, and the African Awareness Society on campus poured ourselves into putting on the best performance we could because of the unspoken expectations of us. For every student who had struggled with a feeling of discrimination at CHC, it was a big deal if it failed in any way.
After successfully coming together to entertain and simultaneously educate hundreds of people, Mead deserved to enjoy his accomplishment. Instead he, as well as the cast, were scrupulously questioned in regards to the proceeds of the play and procedures. The PHRC found that
“There was no written contract or agreement between Complainant [Mead] and Respondent [Chestnut Hill College] detailing the obligations of conducting a student performance.”
Nor was there a faculty adviser provided to inform us beforehand of how these things should be handled.
Now, for people who may speak about this occurrence in the future with terms like ‘race baiter’ or ‘black card,’ I’d like to address you. Not every battle over race is bloody. Sometimes an event is devoid of riots and violence. Sometimes its the pain of the everyday, persistence with lawyers and meetings that makes a difference. There are many within the minority of CHC’s community, and the country for that matter, that attend a predominantly ‘white’ school (PWS) thinking that an unseen hammer is always hanging above them, ready to strike down at the smallest slight.
In some instances we can regard this feeling as paranoia, and others are too obvious to ignore. When “100% of the African-American students charged with a violation were either expelled or suspended,” compared to the overwhelming amount of ‘white’ students found guilty of the exact same infractions or more severe offenses, received suspension or alternate correction only after multiple cases, we can not ignore the facts.
These findings in no way reflect the amazing professors, faculty, cooking staff, and security guards employed by CHC that work tirelessly to treat all of us, black, white, or in between, as students and friends. But, even so, I have had moments on campus where a comment or disdainful judgement has made me feel uncomfortable to say the least. Hopefully, our Alma mater will learn to grow from this experience in accordance to their mission, and help transform the school for future generations of graduates.
Even though the college refused to cooperate with Allan Michael Mead and the PHRC initially, they are currently in the pre-hearing stages as of today. I for one would like to see a peaceful resolution reached, but if the case does make it to trial, I’d stand in full support against what was an egregious mistake.
I welcome all questions, comments, or concerns on this topic, if you’d like to contact me directly. If you’d like to learn more about the case, please click on the link below:
Open Letter on Behalf of the CHC Alumni of the Color Collective
–Written by Ariama Long, Creator of The Poetry Corner, Member of CHC Color Collective