No Validation for Valedictorian
Image from change.org
A small-town high school student, deals with adversity, racial discrimination, and teen motherhood, only to come out with a near perfect grade point average and be named valedictorian of her high school class…
…sounds like a pitch for a new ABC Family TV show, right?
Except it’s not. It’s reality for Kymberly Wimberly (…and you thought Juliet Capulet had it hard!). And unfortunately, her story didn’t conclude with a happy ending like the TV-version would have.
Wimberly was an exceptional high school student at McGhee High School in racially-divided small-town Arkansas. During her junior year of high school, she got pregnant.
Rather than dropping out or signing up for an MTV reality show, Wimberly stayed in school – missing only three weeks and returning back to school for finals after she gave birth.
She worked hard balancing her new responsibilities as a mother with her studies in school.
But Kymberly had a slip up in English class: she got a B…her first ever.
During her senior year, Wimberly was determined to overcome her “slip” in grades. The young woman signed up for a full course load of Advanced Placement classes, which she got all A’s in, bringing her GPA back up and placing her first in line for the valedictorian slot at graduation.
The school guidance counselor told Kimberly’s mom, Molly Bratton, the good news. Bratton was overjoyed.
This is where the TV show’s season finale would end, maybe with a closing emotional graduation montage. But this is where the real life injustice started for Wimberly and her family.
The next day, Bratton, who works at the high school, heard another staff member talk about
the big mess
that having Kymberly as valedictorian would cause.
Her mother, and media sources since the story has become public, have interpreted this comment and the school’s subsequent actions to be both because of Wymberly’s race (the majority white school hasn’t had a black valedictorian in almost 20 years) and because of her status as a teen mother.
The next day, McGhee principal Darrell Thompson announced that this year, the high school would break tradition and name a co-valedictorian – a white student, with a lower GPA.
Bratton attempted to file an appeal to the decision, but the school system informed her she would have to wait until the end of June to have her petition heard, a month and a half after Kymberly’s graduation.
Her father then contacted a civil rights attorney from Little Rock who quickly called the superintendent Thomas Gathen, who assured the lawyer that he would
fix the problem
Apparently, fixing the problem to Gathen means defending the status quo. Believing that the situation was indeed fixed, the lawyer didn’t file an injunction. Then Gathen took to the air waves, defending the school’s decision.
Now months after graduation, Wimberly’s lawyer is suing Gathen, the school board, and Thompson for racial discrimination – both against Wimberly and on behalf of other African-American students at McGhee who claim to have been discouraged from taking AP classes.
Meanwhile, a former teen mom is taking up for Wymberly through online activism. Bee Lavendar started this petition on change.org to stand allow people across the nation to stand in solidarity with Kymberly and demand that the school system apologize and give her the honor she deserves.
What do you think? Will you be signing the petition in support of Kymberly?