Help Georgia Students End Segregated Proms

Here's how you can show support to teens who are trying to put a stop to separate dances.

Generic image (Digital Vision)
Generic image (Digital Vision)

(The Root) —

UPDATED Wednesday, April 10, 2013, at 2:45 EDT: An adviser to the students, Harriet Hollis of the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, told Farai Chideya that the students are planning a more private celebration. The Root will bring you more soon about their plans and how they are choosing to make history. Hollis says they have been deluged with support.

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who have too much on their plate, I’m going to do the writing equivalent of serving dessert first. There are some high school students who need our help. They’re throwing the first integrated prom in their Georgia town. Yes, the first, and yes, it’s 2013, 50 years after the March on Washington and 150 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. We need to reward their courage — and right now, the music and entertainment industries could be a huge help. Read on and find out how you can help, too.

In Wilcox County, Ga., population just shy of 10,000 people, the black homecoming queen could not go to the same dance as the white homecoming king. This is not a joke. And it gets even worse this month, with prom looming April 27. As an article in USA Today puts it, “In Georgia, proms are organized by private groups, like parents, and not by the school. But since Wilcox County is the last county in Georgia where dances are still segregated by race, WMAZ-TV reported, that has meant separate proms for black and white students.”

Individuals have been donating to the prom on a Facebook page. But my question following the story thus far is, where is the music industry? A big-name entertainer, or even one with a more modest following, could change the game here.

Music and entertainment have social capital. People from Marian Anderson to Harry Belafonte played roles in surfacing the need for civil rights. What about the artists of today, when we are living in a supposedly postracial world?

How better to blow the Wilcox County white prom out of the water than by supporting an integrated prom so dynamic that anyone going to the white prom felt as if they were the ones being left out? The very existence of the white prom indicates that some people in the town — particularly the parents funding that prom — still think that segregation has social cachet. In fact, a biracial student was turned away by organizers of last year’s white prom.

So what if the sons and daughters of the white prom’s organizers, instead of being feted at an exclusive event, found themselves embarrassed to participate — and jealous of the amazing integrated prom? It would drive the nail into the white prom’s coffin and make an important statement about how committed we are as a culture to cleaning up the ugly remnants of segregation.

Here’s the business case: Music companies, and most major companies period, contribute to nonprofits and benefits as part of their work in corporate social responsibility. It’s a two-way street. While the companies and musicians donate their time, they receive press and accolades in return.