This should be a feel good story. Kymberly Wimberly, a young, teenage mother, overcomes adversity (and a horrendously spelled name) to become valedictorian of her high school near Little Rock, Arkansas. She is congratulated and set out as an example to other students, before continuing on her successful journey.

And if Kymberly Wimberly were white, maybe that would be the story coming to a Lifetime special near you. But Wimberly is black, and this is the internet. According to a lawsuit filed by Wimberly’s mother, Molly Bratton, the principal of McGehee Secondary School wanted to avoid the “big mess” that would have ensued if Wimberly had been named sole valedictorian, to be applauded at graduation by McGehee’s majority-white parents. Bratton claims that this is just the latest in a pattern of discrimination against black students at the majority-white school.

Thanks to the internet, I think Principal Darrell Thompson is about to learn a whole new definition for “big mess”….

That the alleged discrimination happened to the daughter of one of the school’s employees surely doesn’t help. From Courthouse News Service:

Wimberly’s mother is the school’s “certified media specialist.” She says in the federal discrimination complaint that after her daughter had been told she would be valedictorian, the mother heard “in the copy room that same day, other school personnel expressed concern that Wimberly’s status as valedictorian might cause a ‘big mess.’”

McGehee Secondary School is predominantly white, and 46 percent African-American, according to the complaint. Bratton says that the day after she heard the “big mess” comment, McGehee Principal Darrell Thompson, a defendant, told her “that he decided to name a white student as co-valedictorian,” although the white student had a lower G.P.A.

It’s freaking amateur hour out there in Arkansas. Last week we had the town that wants to ignore the constitution, and now we get this. If true, this is a dumb way of discriminating against black kids. If you really want to give a little white affirmative action when it comes to graduation ceremonies, just appoint a “graduation speaker” who is different from the valedictorian. That way, you don’t have to get funky when it comes to calculating GPAs, but the white parents can still be spoken to by the white student of their choice.

That’s how we do things up north; why is Arkansas apparently so slow on the uptake?

Really, if these allegations are true, I suspect that the problem wasn’t so much that Kymberly Wimberly was a young black girl. I suspect that the problem was that Wimberly was a young black mother. I’m reminded of this imagined meeting between West Wing President Josiah Bartlet and Barack Obama, written by Aaron Sorkin (at the request of Maureen Dowd):

OBAMA You’re saying race doesn’t have anything to do with it?

BARTLET I wouldn’t go that far. Brains made me look arrogant but they make you look uppity. Plus, if you had a black daughter —

OBAMA I have two.

BARTLET — who was 17 and pregnant and unmarried and the father was a teenager hoping to launch a rap career with “Thug Life” inked across his chest, you’d come in fifth behind Bob Barr, Ralph Nader and a ficus.

OBAMA You’re not cheering me up.

It’s one thing to ask people to treat little girls equally. But asking them to treat little teenage mothers equally might be a bridge too far.

Hey, it’s the best way I can explain these allegations. As they say on The Root:

Is it 1911 or 2011? If a teen mother finishes school and at the top of the Senior class, then she should be praised not humiliated. Wimberly does actually have the highest g.p.a. and has earned her place at the top of the class. Students and parents embarrassed by the fact that Wimberly is a young mother should be embarrassed by the fact that they’re kids presumably had less responsibility and still couldn’t manage to be at the top of the class.

The McGehee high school hasn’t had a black valedictorian since 1989. Had the school addressed that situation by appointing a black “valedictorian” who had a lower GPA than the top-ranked white student, the gnashing of teeth from white parents in Arkansas would be heard in space.

It’ll be very interesting to see what the school district has to say for itself. If Wimberly did in fact have the highest GPA, I don’t know what they’re going to say.

In any event, congratulations to Kymberly Wimberly. Your mom might have an unhealthy fascination with the letter “y,” but not every young black kid has parents willing to fight an employer and an entire school on their behalf.

Black Student Can’t Be Valedictorian [Courthouse News Service]
Black Valedictorian Can’t Be Top Student? [The Root]

Earlier: Exasperated Arkansas Town Ignores Constitution


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