Black Teen Mom Denied Valedictorian Title

For most high school students in the U.S., balancing academics, college applications, extracurricular activities, sports, part-time jobs and commitments to friends and family can be a big challenge. But for teen mothers, the responsibilities of parenthood create even more strain. Earning straight A’s is no small feat for anyone, but for a student also charged with caring for an infant, it’s a tremendous accomplishment.

That’s precisely what Kymberly Wimberly, a high school student from McGehee, Ark., managed to do.

When she got pregnant in her junior year, Wimberly missed only three weeks of school and returned in time for finals. In her senior year, she took a full load of Advanced Placement courses, worked through the long hours and intense coursework and ended the year with straight A’s, earning her the title of valedictorian of her class at McGehee High School.

Yet, despite the fact that her GPA was definitively the highest in her class, school officials apparently weren’t satisfied. Her mother, Molly Bratton, who works at the high school, overheard school officials calling Wimberly’s accomplishments “a big mess,” and the day after she was declared valedictorian, the school’s principal announced that Wimberly would in fact have to share the title with the runner-up, a white student whose GPA was lower than hers. Bratton believes this move–unprecedented in the school’s history–may have been made in order to avoid having a single black mother honored as the best in the class.

Bratton has filed a lawsuit against the high school and Principal Darrell Thompson for discriminating against Wimberly on the basis of race. The suit also alleges that school officials discourage black students from taking AP courses by telling them that the classes are too difficult.

Arkansas is no stranger to racial tensions playing out in schools. Little Rock was the site of the infamous desegregation battles in the years that followed the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, during which the “Little Rock Nine” took the historic step of integrating the city’s Central High School in 1957.

Fifty-four years later, the “separate but equal” mentality seems to persist in the town of McGehee. As Wimberly described it,

Black students are meant to stay in regular course levels and mostly play sports, that’s what we’re good at, that that’s what we should stick to–that’s the mentality of McGehee.

In the face of this attitude, as well as the grueling responsibilities of motherhood, Wimberly rose to the top of her class. She deserves the same accolades that have been afforded to every other first-in-class student in the school’s history. Sign this petition to tell the McGehee School District to give Wimberly (and Wimberly alone) the honor she earned.

ABOVE: Photo of Kymberly Wimberly, from Change.org, courtesy of Kymberly Wimberly

Comments

  1. McGehee is actually about a two hour drive from Little Rock in a completely different part of the state, not “right outside.” Perhaps it would be more accurate to say the state of Arkansas is no stranger to racial tensions in schools?

  2. Melissa says:

    I know you want to make this a “the more things change, the more things stay the same in Little Rock/Arkansas” story but McGehee is over 100 miles south of Little Rock. I don’t know anywhere that considers a community 100 miles away as a place that “sits just outside” somewhere. And it’s intellectually dishonest to spin the story that way.

    I am not saying that the McGehee school board is right by any stretch of the imagination but you are attempting to perpetuate an Arkansas stereotype by linking the two places in a way that simply doesn’t exists. There are many, many people in Arkansas, especially Little Rock, who are outraged by these events.

  3. This article doesn’t report the full story. The runner up’s GPA was only lower because she had taken an additional non-AP class (and gotten an A), thus lowering her above 4.0 GPA. Had she not taken the additional class, she would have had the same GPA as Ms. Wimberly. The runner up was an equally hard working and successful student and to suggest racism or bias in this situation is absurd.

    • Except valedictorian status is based on GPA, not “how hard one works.” Plenty of C students work just as hard. Should they also be included as valedictorians?

    • Just out of curiosity…

      Does the school have the policy of the valedictorian receiving that title based on the weighted GPA or the unweighted GPA?

      • They don’t have any information that specific in the student handbook, so I can’t say for sure.

        • The superintendent later claimed it was weighted to equalize for number of credits. HOWEVER, Kymberly’s name had already been published as the sole valedictorian and she had been notified as such before the announcement of a co-valedictorian.

    • This still doesn’t matter. I took an extracurricular non-AP course that lowered my placement in class by 6 spots to 9th. My placement was lowered because the other students decided to take early release and late arrival (slots that don’t count for any credits) that helped boost their GPAs. It’s all about GPA.

  4. Definitively? Apparently? Drop a few adverbs; the story deserves better. A card-carrying feminist, I am about ready to unfollow Ms. if y’all can’t pay for decent writers. Wonder if Change is hiring Kymberly Wimberly? Or any place else?

  5. i thank Allah that i live in country that dose not distinguish detween the blacks and whites and the reason is our religion islam. that spread the peac and tell us to deal with others in a way that we want others to deal with us.there is no chance to find like the situation that happend to the black student in here and even to call her black we consider it bad and it harm others feelings. where is the humanity in this world?

    • A lot of people of darker skin tones in the US, Canada, UK, and elsewhere identify as “black.” Sociologically, it’s the correct term for the group as a whole.

    • Shosho, i am extremely curios. In which country are you living in?

      Ps: Just because Islam calls for peace and justice, doesn’t mean Muslims have refrained from racism and discrimination. Reality is so much uglier.

  6. Janell Hobson says:

    When I was graduating from high school, there was a similar case that occurred at another high school, in which the black valedictorian was forced to share the “valedictorian” title with a fellow white student. The difference in that case, however, is that the two students really were only a few decimal points apart from each other. The black student felt the school was discriminatory (and we can imagine, if the few decimal points favored the white student, there might not be an insistence in having “co-valedictorians”).

    So, it’s disheartening to see this situation occurring so many years later. I do think, however, that as black people, we need to learn to pick our battles. Filing a lawsuit in this case may be more stressful and more trouble than it’s worth. At least Kymberly Wimberly gets to keep the valedictorian title, even if she must share it. There would be more of a discrimination suit if she were in fact stripped from her valedictorian title.

    I just think this young student should be very proud of herself, and I hate to see that her accomplishments are being diminished over the foolishness and sheer pettiness of the few educators who went out of their way to find loopholes to keep them from giving her full honors.

    Sure, maybe this discrimination suit might be a way to resist the racist and sexist school system, but I personally think that’s a waste of time.

    If I were Kymberly, I would have put my school on FULL BLAST by delivering a scathing, kick-ass valedictorian speech that they would never ever ever forget any time soon!

    Young ladies, YOU MUST CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES WISELY!

  7. It’s not an Arkansas issue, this has been going on for a long time: http://ebenezerray.com/2011/07/30/black-valedicto

    And it is a larger issue than who gets to be valedictorian. It really is about encouraging black students to excel, to take AP and honors courses and not be tacitly and blatantly discouraged from doing so, because of low expectations. Kymberly is obviously going to be fine. It’s the students who don’t have her chutzpah, her tenacity, her supportive family and other caring adults in her corner that I worry about.

  8. As I have read the story, I felt an outraged on my heart too, even I am not one of the black people. I just hate racial discrimination or any of its acts. On this part as I followed the comments also, someone claimed this story is not telling the whole story. Whatever it is, I would agree Janell Hobson for saying “If I were Kymberly, I would have put my school on FULL BLAST by delivering a scathing, kick-ass valedictorian speech that they would never ever ever forget any time soon!”

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  9. Jessica Ann says:

    I am confused is this because she was a teen mom or what? It looks like that is what it is about which is horrible in itself. But then To make it worse people have decided to throw the race card in there which is just dumb. Either way she has the highest GPA and should have been the one to keep the honor.

  10. It does not matter where the incident took place, what matters is that the incident took place in 2011. She is not only an inspiration to students, but black students, to Teen mothers — expecially African American Teen Mothers. It lets them know that inspite of the set backs you can still achieve — above and beyond. Racism should not have that much power in this day and age. Good Luck in your Case Sweetie & never stop fighting.

    Welcome to the Real World — Cruel is true, but don’t ever allow it to turn you or discourage you.

    Congratulations of your great achievements.

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