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The French Final

Alberta Wilson


A true episode from a black child’s life — mine

A brilliant career pedagogue decided that all music appreciation courses in Junior High School 142 should take place in room 320. This meant three ninth grade classes were grouped together every Friday afternoon to learn songs no one would ever sing anywhere else. One of those classes was 9SP, my class. 9–2 and 9–3 were the other two. Music appreciation? More like, telling jokes, copying homework, throwing spit balls and general goofing off.

No kid who wasn’t in S-P liked us. Officially standing for “special progress,” it was routinely substituted with “stupid people” or “stinky piss” or whatever a not-so-imaginative adolescent mind could come up with. Our music appreciation classmates in 9–2 and 9–3, being closest to us scholastically and like the other ninth graders, older than us, were not the best choice to group us with. Our entire class had skipped the eighth grade.

The group dynamic wasn’t bad enough. I was at the bottom of the popularity charts in school and on the block. The very first day of seventh grade, I had been beaten up and sent to the hospital. My Amazonian aggressor pummeled me while repeating, “You think you cute!”

Our Brooklyn neighborhood, at that time pre-”Black is beautiful” sixties, was made up of lower to middle working class, ethnic, Black, and Puerto Ricans. On the far end were the projects, surrounded by tenements and other poor housing. Today, a major gentrified Brooklyn area. Located on the school side were the brownstones and solid middle-class apartments and homes. The politics: conservative and apartheid. JHS 142 faculty and staff worked with but did not live with their Red Hook students from the far end, across Hamilton Avenue.

Johnny Piccolo and I had been tested in our fourth grade class to qualify for a special program, phased out a few years later, called IGC for “intellectually gifted children.” Johnny stayed in the neighborhood but I went to the program in a part of the city that felt like a different country.

To get to my new school, I took the B77 bus to the subway station, Smith & 9th, the highest elevator station in New York/the world; from there I rode the D train 5 stops to Church Avenue. I got off in a middle to upper class enclave of the borough where detached houses and…