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Growing up colorblind: Next generation doesn't consider friends' skin color
Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School fifth-graders Juan Santano, left, and Gaby Nunez work together for a Black History Month report on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - photo by Tom Reed
Black history month
During February, we will profile ways people in our community are furthering the Rev. Martin Luther King’s ideals set forth in his “I Have a Dream” speech. Today we look at how our youngest generation views different races.

From the abolitionist Harriet Tubman to the writer Zora Neale Hurston and even entertainer Bill Cosby, Brenda Colbert’s fifth-grade class at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School is studying African-American trailblazers during the month of February, in honor of Black History Month.

But none may ever be as influential as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

On Aug. 28, 1963, King said his dream was that “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.”

It has been nearly 50 years since that speech was delivered to hundreds of thousands of people. So today, more than a generation later, has the dream of which King spoke been achieved?

Today, children in Gainesville and Hall County schools grow up with friends of different ethnicity and race, and often this experience teaches kids early on that it’s more about a friend’s character than the color of their skin. Teachers and school administrators who reinforce this idea in classroom lessons are one way civil rights activism continues to this day.

Fifth-grader Luis Caudillo said he thinks without civil rights, his school wouldn’t be quite the same.

“If they didn’t do all of the stuff they did we wouldn’t be here together,” Caudillo said. “I would be separated from Kamajah (Jones) and Quinn (Stanley) and I really like the friends that I already have right here.”

It’s simply about being friends, he added.

“Areli (Albarron) and Willie (Brooks), they get along good; they might be different colors but they are friends.”

Colbert added that the topic of race really doesn’t come up among the students in her class.

“We haven’t had a problem, but usually I try and set a tone here that we are family and where they feel good to talk, to feel at ease to talk and with no problems about anything,” said Colbert, who attended Fair Street when she was in elementary school. She has been teaching for 35 years.

“When I went to Fair Street it was all black, and then I went to Butler for a year and then we changed over and I went to Gainesville Middle first and then Gainesville High.”

Willie Brooks, also a student in Colbert’s class, added that he felt today the school is free of racism.

“You don’t have to be scared when you go to school of the racism — all the black and white stuff and everything is put together,” he said. “School would be boring with all the different races at their own school.”

Emory Turner, who attended Fair Street and graduated from E.E. Butler High School in 1966, before integration, said things are different today for children in school.

Back when he was in school, he said, you couldn’t escape the idea of other students’ race.

“This was during the days that the signs were up ‘colored’ and ‘white.’ It wasn’t just a thought, it was in your eyes,” Turner said. “At the train station, at the bus station, the restrooms, and you rode in the back of the bus and all that type of stuff.

“It wasn’t just a thought, it (segregation) was a way of life.”

Since his days in a segregated school system, Turner said, things in Gainesville have changed dramatically.

“People said it would never work, but when the time came for it to work I don’t see how there was any big problem in this area,” he said. “There were some small attitudes, but we have just about outgrown it.”

Which, if the children in Colbert’s class are any indicator, race in the classroom is essentially not an issue.

Jones said she is glad school is like it is today.

“They didn’t have desks, chairs with baskets under them, they didn’t have water fountains, they had to use colored and half the time the water didn’t work,” she said. “Everyone just gets along in my class.”

Chelsea Jones agreed that she doesn’t think about what people look like.

“I have all kinds of friends ... and I’m glad everyone is all together, not apart,” she said. “Whites and blacks are together; when he (King) was around they weren’t. We would have to drink out of different water fountains ... we wouldn’t go to the same schools.”