I went to Matthews schools, and I see the value of diversity

Some parents would rather send their kids to Providence High than to Butler. House Bill 514 pits Matthews and other towns against CMS.
Some parents would rather send their kids to Providence High than to Butler. House Bill 514 pits Matthews and other towns against CMS.

Not too long ago, I was the kind of student who is now part of the debate between the Town of Matthews and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board: a Charlotte resident who attended public schools in Matthews for all 13 years of my education. I am a proud graduate of Matthews Elementary, Crestdale Middle and Butler High. Those three schools provided me with an excellent education that continues to open doors for me today. In fact, I graduated valedictorian of the Butler High Class of 2017 and now attend my top-choice college, Vanderbilt University.

When CMS board Chair Mary McCray remarked that the many Matthews students attending Providence High School could be rezoned to Butler, she effectively debunked the “town pride” argument that has been proposed by certain members of the Matthews town board. McCray is correct in pointing out that many Matthews families are happy to send their kids to schools outside of town if that school is majority-white and predominantly middle class. In fact, many of them would prefer that to the more diverse, both socioeconomically and racially, “town” high school.

Despite the perception of some, Butler High is a school worth defending. Butler provided me with every opportunity I could have hoped for: challenging courses, excellent teachers and the skills necessary to perform well on every standardized test that came my way. To those who look down on Butler: you’ve really got it wrong.

Throughout the same years that I attended Butler, I had the incredible opportunity to volunteer at Greenway Park Elementary. As I spent countless hours in classrooms around the school, I began to see the divide that plagues Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Greenway Park is just one example of the socioeconomic and racial segregation that is present across the school district. To me, the difference between Greenway Park and the schools I had attended was staggering. Despite the inequities I saw, I fell in love with the Greenway Park Panthers. These students are talented, smart and kind. My time at Greenway Park was my favorite part of every week and it completely shifted my perspective.

In light of my experiences, both at Butler and at Greenway Park, I will not silently sit by during the debate about House Bill 514 and the ongoing tension between Matthews and CMS. While this conflict is at a boiling point today, this isn’t a new problem. Over the last several decades, Mecklenburg County has shifted from an example of what integration can and should look like to one of the most segregated school districts in the country. Concurrently, of America’s 50 largest cities, Charlotte has been ranked worst for upward mobility.

We can do better than this.

It is time for all of us to speak up for the students who cannot speak up for themselves. It is time to demand the socioeconomic integration that would benefit all of our students. It is time to once more claim Charlotte’s spot as a shining example of opportunity for all.

It is time for middle- and upper-class families to realize that sending their kids to school with students of a different background isn’t just OK, it’s a privilege worth fighting for. It is time for those same families to no longer be content with opportunity for their kids, but rather seek that same opportunity for every child in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

It is time to fully realize the goal captured in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ motto: “Every Child. Every Day. For a Better Tomorrow.”

Leonard is a rising sophomore at Vanderbilt University. Email: