This is an excerpt from an essay written by Mpaza S. Kapembwa, a student at Williams College, in Massachusetts. Kapembwa is a 2011 Cross Keys graduate, Gates Millennium Scholar, Coca Cola Scholar, Dell Scholar and Bank of America Student Leader. His essay was written on his first trip home in response to what he saw as a “tumultuous” year for DeKalb Schools.
It is heartbreaking to see all the negative news surrounding the DeKalb County School system over the past year but we shouldn’t end the year on a negative note. There is a lot of good in our schools beneath everything we hear. I can’t speak for every school or student but I will speak of my experience at one school that has changed my life.
I’m a 2011 Cross Keys High School alumnus currently attending Williams College in Massachusetts. I know what most of you are thinking. “Williams? Never heard of it.” That’s OK because I hadn’t either until senior year of high school. Williams is a liberal arts college that has been ranked the No. 1 college in America for the past two years by Forbes magazine.
Almost everyone at Williams who comes from Atlanta attended private school. When I met other students from DeKalb public schools, I was thrilled. One Friday night, I was in the student center and two former DeKalb students joined me. We talked about the schools we came from, and one of the students said she was proud of me because I came from the worst school in the county.
I’ve heard this many times but it never bothers me. I wanted to be mad at her but I couldn’t. I live by a simple saying: “I won’t let other people’s ignorance define who I am.” I know she is not alone in thinking Cross Keys is the worst school in DeKalb. Some parents may think if they send their kids to Cross Keys or any of its feeder schools they are doing them a disservice.
It’s no secret, parental involvement at Cross Keys is very low. My mother works two jobs and I barely see her, and that’s the case with many of the parents. Unlike many schools, we don’t have a strong Parent Teacher Association or a Booster Club for any of our sports teams and yes, we don’t have a lot of things that your school or child’s school may have.
Despite all this, I have never felt like a victim. I went to school with some of the most courageous people I have ever known. In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch says, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” We rarely got all the resources we wanted; we had a hard time raising money to pay for our robotics team to compete or get the new track we wanted but we never stopped fighting. However, after fighting for years we finally saw some of the renovations we needed—that was a rare victory.
I am proud to be a Cross Keys Indian, and I represent that everywhere I go. At the Coca-Cola Scholarship Banquet in April, I was the only student from Atlanta being honored; therefore, I had the privilege to sit with Mayor Kasim Reed, the First Lady of Georgia Mrs. Sandra Deal and The Coca-Cola Company CEO Mr. Muhtar Kent. I talked to Mr. Kent and he told me he was from an immigrant family, like most of us at Cross Keys, and that he started out as a truck driver at Coca-Cola in 1978. Now, he is heading the company worldwide.
When I hear people saying Cross Keys only produces students who attend technical schools, I just smile because I know some of the world’s great leaders started out from humble beginnings.
I consider myself very blessed for the three years I spent at Cross Keys. I helped captain the soccer team to its first ever final-four appearance, and I am hopeful the team will go further this year. I was there to witness Leonel Ayala, a good friend, win back-to-back cross country state championships and to watch our track team compete in the state championships every year. I am very fortunate to have been on the football team that broke a 40-game losing streak and went on to win two in a row and was honored as FOX 5 Team of the Week and to have played for a soccer coach who garnered 50 wins in four years.
I do realize that a lot of problems exist in DeKalb and within individual schools but the negativity of the past year has not been very constructive. As I continue to embark on a remarkable journey at Williams I will keep fighting for Cross Keys by representing it in my actions. I hope hearing from a Cross Keys alumnus will change the way you look at Cross Keys and inspire you to start looking deeper into other schools that some might be disparaging. What you focus on, you will magnify.
Kapembwa’s full essay is available at www.dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com.