Communication. It is one of the greatest tools to get people to understand each other.
Five years ago, I wrote in this same space, about the Class of 1970 from Miami Carol City High School in Miami Gardens, and its 40th reunion. What troubled me about that event was that there were two reunions — one for the white alumni and one for the African-American alumni.
“After 1975, we never got any notification about a class reunion,” said Terry Lewis Thompson, secretary of the Class of 1970 Alumni Association. “That’s why we started our own reunion. But the controversy actually started with our 40th, when the black alumni and the white alumni had separate events on the same weekend.”
Five years ago, when Thompson called me about the “separate but equal” high school reunions, I was disturbed that in 2010 we, as a community, hadn’t come as far as I though we had. Then I learned that it was all a matter of the lack of communication.
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“At the 40th reunion when some of the whites learned of our gathering, they left their banquet and came over to ours,” Thompson said. “We were so happy to see them and vowed at the time to work harder to get the entire class together.”
The communication gap was closed recently when, from July 31 to Aug. 2, the Class of 1970 came together in unity at the Don Shula’s Hotel and Golf Club in Miami Lakes for its 45th reunion. And all was forgiven.
Sandy Bain Houle, who came all the way from Texas for the weekend reunion remembers that back in 2010, “we celebrated at separate events, only a block apart. I remember wanting to know where my black classmates were.”
Remembering that time five years ago, she said she almost didn’t come for this reunion.
“But I’m so glad I came. I always knew in my heart that the class wanted to be together. And I’m loving it. I hope the people who didn’t show up this year will hear about what a great time we are having and will want to come next time,” Houle said.
In her welcome to the class at its scholarship banquet, Yvonne Hart reminded alumni that back in 1967, the people in the room were thrust into something that was strange to each of them: integration.
“[Integration] was mandatory. So we had to leave the comforts of our homes and communities and were bused to Carol City High, which was all new to us back then. But we soon learned that the world as we knew it, was changing and we wanted to be a part of the school,” Hart said.
She remembers that blacks and whites got along well as they integrated the school. “There were no black students and not white students. We were together,” Hart said.
Of 700 graduates in the Class of 1970, 110 responded to this year’s reunion invitation.
David Obenauer, now an engineer, was president of the Class of 1970. He remembered that the summer before their senior year, “man walked on the moon. That told us that we could do anything. And looking back, it was the students, 3,000 young people trying to figure out who we were.”
“But the whole state of Florida knew who we were during basketball season,” he said to the cheers of those in the room.
Obenauer said the 2015 reunion was “five years in the making, but is great.”
After the separate reunions in 2010, Obenauer met with Paul Roberts, president and board chairman of the Miami Carol City Class of 1970 Alumni Association and said, “This has got to stop.”
Sometime later, Roberts met with Gina Keeler, another white classmate who voiced the same sentiment. “We made a vow that separate reunions would never happen again.”
Keeler remembered that back in the day, “integration was not a factor for us. If there was a fight at our school, it had nothing to do with race. So, when I saw our class divided, it broke my heart.”
This year’s Saturday night reception offered something for everyone: DJ Stan got the party started with Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, while Frank Legree Jr. nearly brought the group to tears with his rendition of the gospel classic I Won’t Complain.
Before dinner, Gloria Blatch Dennis, Phyllis Wilcox and Norma Henry announced the 2015 scholarship recipients: Bodacious Graves, Nikki White and Briana Reid. Each was awarded a $500 scholarship from the class of 1970.
Roberts summed up the weekend when he said, “Special moments. are always a part of our lives.”
“But like the bee, we are often too busy making the honey to savor its taste,” he added. “This weekend, my classmates took a moment to pause and savor the taste. … It is a great thing when a negative perception meets a positive reality. The reuniting of our class became a reality, which really has been ‘a time for us,’” referring to the title of their class song.