By Mariano Castillo, CNN
Birmingham, Alabama (CNN) - The class of 1963 crowded in a rectangle on the dance floor, the memories of high school fresh on their minds as the band played in a sea of pink and blue hues.
Aretha Franklin. Etta James. The Temptations. Just what you would expect to be playing at a 1960s prom. Yet the song that drew the most bodies to the dance floor was "The Wobble."
Until this hip-hop song emptied the chairs, it felt as if the auditorium had been transported back 50 years.
But it's 2013, and despite the full-court nostalgia for the 1960s, that decade was one of the most difficult times in Birmingham's history.
Societal tensions over race were so high in 1963 that the city canceled senior prom for five of the city's segregated high schools for blacks.
Today, a half century has passed since the seminal civil rights protests that changed Birmingham and plotted a path for the nation away from segregation and toward equal rights.
Just like that path, the healing process has been a long one.
The Historic 1963 Prom, held Friday and hosted by the city of Birmingham, closed one chapter for these Alabamans.
'A tension-filled city'
Growing up in Birmingham in the 1950s, Earnestine Thomas knew the rules of this segregated city. At a restaurant, she could pay in the front, but had to walk around the back to get her food from a cook. She could shop only in certain places; there were neighborhoods that she knew not to visit.
"As a child, I recognized that it was unfair, but didn't understand that there were laws propping (segregation) up," she said as she waited for a hair appointment before Friday's prom.
She treated herself to a hair styling before donning a lavender dress with a sequined jacket and matching shoes. Lavender was a fitting color, she said, not just because it is her favorite, but because it was the school color at Parker High School.
It was a day of celebration that she and her classmates were denied in 1963.
Editor's note: Freeman Hrabowski has been president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for 20 years. He was named one of the world's 100 most influential people in 2012 by TIME. He spoke at TED2013 in February. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to "Ideas worth spreading," which it makes available through talks posted on its website.
By Freeman Hrabowski, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Fifty years ago this month, I chanced to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. I was a mild-mannered kid with a speech impediment and a love of math. That day, I was focused on solving math problems, not issues of justice and equal rights. But King broke through to me when he said this: If the children of Birmingham march, Americans will see that what they are asking for is a better education. They will see that even the very young know the difference between right and wrong.
I chose to march, and found myself among hundreds of children jailed for five terrifying days. Mind you, I was not a brave child. But even at 12 years old, I believed and hoped that my participation could make a difference.
Twenty-five years later, I had made my way to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. My colleagues and I had an outrageous dream: Perhaps a young research university - just 20 years old - could alter the course of minority performance in higher education, particularly in the sciences. Baltimore philanthropists Robert and Jane Meyerhoff shared our vision.
And now people ask: What magic have we hit upon that has enabled us to become a national model for educating students of all races in a wide range of disciplines? How did we - as a predominantly white university with a strong liberal arts curriculum - become one of the top producers of minority scientists in the country?
By Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley, CNN
New York (CNN) - Columbia University is seeking to alter the 1920 charter of one of its graduate school fellowships which is still limited "to persons of the Caucasian race," though the fellowship has not been granted in years.
The Lydia C. Roberts Graduate Fellowship is, at least on paper, available to white students "of either sex, born in the state of Iowa," according to a Columbia University charter from 1920.
The university filed an affidavit in Manhattan Supreme Court last week to support a petition from JPMorgan Chase, the fellowship's designated trustee, to change the whites-only provision, according to Robert Hornsby, assistant vice president for media relations at Columbia.
Other restrictions for the fellowship stipulate that a recipient may not concentrate their studies in "law, medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, or theology." Recipients must also agree to return to Iowa for two years after completing their studies at Columbia.
The fellowship was established in 1920 by Lydia C. Roberts, an Iowa native, with a $500,000 donation to the university upon her death. However, the school stopped awarding the fellowship in 1997 for several reasons.
It's not clear when the university stopped adhering "to the race-related terms of the gift," Hornsby explained.
"The university administers gifts in accordance with applicable law and (anti-discrimination) policies, and it has long been the university's practice to disregard donor restrictions that violate either the law or our policies," he added.
Editor’s Note: Michael Lomax, Ph.D, is president and CEO of UNCF, the United Negro College Fund, the largest private provider of scholarships and other educational support to minority and low-income students. Previously, Lomax was president of Dillard University in New Orleans and a literature professor at Morehouse and Spelman colleges.
It was on this day in 1854 that Ashmun Institute, the first college established solely for African-American students, was officially chartered.
Twelve years later, Ashmun was renamed as Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University and became the nation’s first degree-granting institution for African-Americans, or what we now know as a historically black college and university.
Where Lincoln led, others followed, and there are now 105 historically black colleges and universities, enrolling more than 370,000 students and awarding 20% of all undergraduate degrees earned by African-Americans.
“A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” the almost universally recognized motto of UNCF, the United Negro College Fund, has come to represent the aspirations of all historically black colleges and universities to ensure that all Americans can earn the college degrees they need and the 21st century economy demands.
UNCF makes those aspirations real for nearly 60,000 students each year by providing financial support for 38 private historically black colleges and universities and awarding 13,000 scholarships to students at 900 colleges and universities.
Like Lincoln University, these historically black colleges and universities began when African-Americans had few other higher education options. Much has changed since then. Today, a college education is not a “good-to-have” but a “must-have,” the basic requirement for almost every fast-growing and good-paying job and career path.
Washington (CNN) - The Supreme Court agreed Monday to confront another high-profile challenge to affirmative action in college admissions.
The justices will decide the constitutionality of a voter referendum in Michigan banning race- and sex-based discrimination or preferential treatment in public university admission decisions.
The high court is currently deciding a separate challenge to admissions policies at the University of Texas, which did not involve a voter referendum.
A federal appeals court last year concluded the affirmative action ban, which Michigan voters passed in a 2006 referendum, violated the U.S. Constitution's equal protection laws.
It was the latest step in a legal and political battle over whether the state's colleges can use race and gender as a factor in choosing which students to admit. The ban's opponents say classroom diversity remains a necessary government role.
By John S. Wilson, Special to CNN
Editor's note: John S. Wilson is a contributing writer for Forbes, Huffington Post and Black Enterprise. He frequently writes about health and education policies and politics. He's on Twitter at @johnwilson.
(CNN) – When I was around 12 or 13, one of just a few black students in my entire grade, a substitute teacher made inappropriate remarks about slavery. When I got home, I just knew my mother would do something about it; this was a woman who visited my school as though she had to punch a clock.
She listened, said the teacher was wrong, and that was it. No angry phone calls, no marching to the school, no request for anyone to be reprimanded or fired. I was shocked. But she told me that my school didn’t share the same values as that teacher, and she was confident the unfortunate incident was temporary but the values the school instilled were permanent.
That’s what a school’s mission is all about: permanency. Instilling character that cannot be tarnished by temporary incidents - even when very offensive – over which it has little control.
But Oberlin College in Ohio made a very poor decision this week. Classes were canceled in response to a rash of racist and anti-gay incidents aimed at students and a student’s report she had seen someone on campus dressed in a white hooded robe. (Police said they received a report of a student wearing a blanket, but couldn’t say whether the incidents were related.)
On Monday, the campus held a “Day of Solidarity,” which consisted of diversity programming, an Africana teach-in, and what Meredith Gadsby, chairwoman of the Africana Studies Department, called “positive propaganda.” If you're at a loss for exactly what that is, think a collegiate version of a “Sesame Street” marathon, minus Oscar the Grouch.
Oberlin passed up an opportunity. Instead of canceling classes, they should have continued normal business while finding ways to draw upon their incredibly strong history of diversity and inclusion.
By canceling classes and generally overreacting - let's face it, racism and baseless discriminatory scrawls on posters and walls will never go away - Oberlin is only sheltering students, instead of assisting them to overcome adversity, an action that would truly fortify their character. What example does this set for students, many of whom will soon be in the workforce? If a supervisor or co-worker offends them, who will be there then to host their day of solidarity?
By CNN Staff
Oberlin, Ohio (CNN) - A day after students at Oberlin College put down their books to focus on how to respond to a spate of hate messages targeting blacks, Jews and gays on campus, classes resumed Tuesday amid tension.
The messages included graffiti with swastikas, posters containing racial slurs and other derogatory statements targeting various student communities and fliers bearing racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic language.
A student's report on Monday that she had seen someone on campus dressed like a member of the Ku Klux Klan led the school to suspend classes for the day.
"I saw someone in what seemed to be KKK paraphernalia walking on a pathway, like, a pathway that leads to South Campus," the student, Sunceray Tavler, told CNN affiliate WJW. "Just seeing that and having that sink in, this is something that's real, that actually happens."
Police said they received a report of a student wearing a blanket on his or her shoulders but could not say whether the incidents were related.
Two students have been identified as being involved in the postings from February and will be subject to college disciplinary procedures, Oberlin police said.
Oberlin President Marvin Krislov said he was not able to discuss the details of the ongoing investigation. "It is a law enforcement matter," he told CNN.
He praised Monday's campuswide focus on the matter, calling it "an educational moment." The students "feel inspired because this institution has the courage to talk about these issues and to confront concerns and that that is part of our educational mission," he said.
By Laura Ly, CNN
(CNN) - Oberlin College in Ohio suspended classes Monday after a student reported seeing a person resembling a Ku Klux Klan member near the college's Afrikan Heritage House.
The sighting of the person wearing a white hood and robe was reported early Monday morning and follows a string of recent hate incidents on Oberlin's campus that have ignited shock and confusion among the student body.
"Since the beginning, there's been anger, frustration, sadness and fear, but we've been working toward a concentrated effort toward change," said Eliza Diop, 20, a politics and Africana Studies major who serves on the college student senate and is a resident of the Afrikan Heritage House, which offers programs focused on the African diaspora, according to the college's website.
Oberlin College is a small liberal arts college in Oberlin, Ohio, with almost 3,000 students. An emergency meeting among the college's officials was immediately called after the report.
In lieu of classes, college administrators asked students, faculty and staff to "gather for a series of discussions of the challenging issues that have faced our community in recent weeks," a statement on Oberlin's website said.
"We hope today will allow the entire community — students, faculty, and staff —to make a strong statement about the values that we cherish here at Oberlin: inclusion, respect for others, and a strong and abiding faith in the worth of every individual," the statement said.
The programming included a campuswide teach-in led by Meredith Gadsby, an associate professor and chairwoman of the Africana Studies Department; a collective demonstration of solidarity, including musical performances by campus groups and speeches by campus leaders; and a community convocation entitled "We Stand Together."
Editor's note: Zach Wahls is the author of "My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family," an Eagle Scout and the founder of Scouts for Equality, the national campaign to end the Boy Scouts of America's ban against openly gay members and leaders.
(CNN) - When I was 10, the school that hosted my Cub Scout pack told us we needed to find a new home. The Boy Scouts of America's policy of prohibiting gay Scouts and Scoutmasters - which the Supreme Court had recently affirmed - violated the school's nondiscrimination policy.
I was confused, because my den mother, Jackie - who is my actual mother - was a lesbian, and nobody in our unit had any issue with that.
The school district in Iowa City, Iowa, was adamant. We had to go. It would not host an organization that discriminated against gay people.
We managed to find an alternative sponsor, a church not too far away. My mother continued to be den mother. But some parents pulled their kids from the pack, uncomfortable with entrusting their sons to an organization they believed engaged in discrimination. Unfortunately, because of the Boy Scouts of America's shortsighted policy, many of the boys who left my pack missed out on learning the lifelong principles, values and skills that Scouting offers.
Those enlightened Iowa parents I remember so clearly were one of the reasons that, a decade later, I founded Scouts for Equality, the national campaign to end the Boy Scouts of America's ban on gay members. After meeting den mother Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian who had been kicked out of Scouting, it was clear that what I had learned in Scouting demanded action.
Our organization trained Scouts in grass-roots organizing, led petition drives that gathered 1.4 million signatures, and provided emotional support to advocates as they dealt with character assassination and homophobic vandalism.
But last week, in an unexpected move, it announced that its national board is considering a policy change to end the organization's high-profile national ban on gay members and leaders. It would leave the decision to include gays up to local units.Although the move would only shift the ability to discriminate from the national level to the local, it would be an important step in the right direction.
There should be no doubt that this move will open the Scouting program to more youth, and that's something we should all be celebrating. First of all, more school districts such as the one I grew up in will be able to resume their sponsorship of Scouting units, offering space for Scouts to meet, develop skills and enjoy one another's friendship. Meeting in local elementary schools always made the most sense for the Boy Scouts anyway: They're in the neighborhood, centrally located and have more than adequate resources to host Scouting programs.