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A Letter To All To Support McLain High School: Dinner, Nov. 18, 6 pm

An Appeal For Support For Tulsa McLain High School
By Ron Robinson, class of 1972

On Thursday, Nov. 18 at 6 pm the new Tulsa McLain High School Foundation will hold a benefit dinner in the school gym, 4929 N. Peoria, to raise funds to endow the foundation for its mission of supporting the students at a time of public funding cutbacks and continuing economic decline in the community. All alumni, friends, and supporters of the northside and of educational justice should turn out in support.

It will be a fun way to reconnect or meet with one another and with the school and with the current students who are upholding the legacy of not being defined by the statistics and stereotypes but by the “Scot/Titan” spirit of still dreaming the impossible dream for their lives. One of my “impossible dreams” is that the new McLain Foundation will get support from alumni across the 50 years, from those who have left the neighborhoods they grew up in and those who still live here, and especially support across the racial lines. Our school and community has borne the brunt of much tension and change, but out of that conflict, because we lived it, we can become leaders for reconciliation. The Foundation is not a panacea for that deeper work, but it is a start and needs support.

The foundation is critical at a time when public educational funds have been cut and when the community around McLain suffers from the lowest income and lowest life expectancy in the area, 14 years below that of the zipcode just six miles south along the same Peoria Ave. McLain’s foundation is the last one to be created for a Tulsa high school. It is coming at a time when the school, now with several specific magnet programs and an alum for a principal, is transforming itself to continue growing leaders for the community, state, and nation.

McLain has had a unique history in the Tulsa schools during its 50 years serving students in Far North Tulsa and adjacent unincorporated areas such as Turley. It was built at a time of economic and community growth on the northside, but it was also built during a time of official segregation in Tulsa schools and within the city. When Tulsa schools began to be slowly integrated in the mid to late 60s, then more rapidly in the early 1970s, McLain and its feeder schools became the first to be rapidly and fully integrated and did so without the magnet program that developed later for city schools. It was on the front lines for needed change, and the rough lessons learned may have helped smooth the integration of other schools in other parts of the city that would come. However, there is much still to be done.

I was proud to be in the school during this time. I am proud that my senior year in 1972 was the first year for a black homecoming queen, the first of the long line to come. I am not proud of how at the very same time many of the advanced classes for college prep began to be eliminated at the school. It was not an easy time for any in many ways, and we had little of the kinds of orientation to multiculturalism that have been developed in the decades since and that were part of the first Magnet experiment. Plus, outside of the school at the same time, the surrounding neighborhoods were beginning their 40 year decline in population and loss of mainstream businesses and civic groups to support the school and community youth. Schools do not exist in vacuums; as communities convulsed, so did schools; conversely, though, as schools can make comebacks, so too then can it spill over into communities.

These changes in the 1970s placed an added stress to the long-held stigmas and stereotypes about the area, and to the racism that flared in reaction to integration as “white flight” occurred. Even though there were always (sometimes predominantly), and continue to be, persons of European ethnic descent living in the McLain area, many of the younger siblings of white McLain grads went to Washington High School instead after its integration occurred later, or they transferred out of the district or began the big shift toward private and suburban schools. A perfect storm of social change, decay, and lack of resources and stability all hit at once. There were at one time about as many students in one grade as there are now in what is a four-grade high school. The economic hit that happened to both white and black middle class and working class families in the 1980s, the drop in wages and home ownership, the rise in drug use and gangs, and the flight of business investment that chased after rooftops instead of reconciliation all left a fragile school even more vulnerable.

Within the span of one generation, while other schools became and stayed integrated, McLain went from being virtually an all-white, and American Indian, student population in official segregation days to virtually an all-black one today. Along the way even the name McLain was changed, to Tulsa School for Science and Technology. While some class reunions became separated by race, echoing the difficulties of uniting even with integration, one thing that seemed to unify many of both black and white alumni was the effort to return the name of the school to McLain. The original mascot name Scots, held proudly by many black alumni as well as white alumni, did not return with the name McLain, but alumni are proud to now be supporters of McLain Titans. (I do personally wish, however, that the added name Science and Technology would be dropped; all Tulsa high schools have some form of magnet programs now, but McLain is the only one with the added name of a technology school; nothing wrong per se with that, except there is already a Tulsa Tech, and to me it evokes the many historic officially segregated black schools who were designated as technical schools.)

Still, it should be said, that even during the years of the first integration at McLain, when the student populations were fairly evenly mixed ethnically, and even during the years when there was the greatest change and challenge from the problems in the community, and even during the years since when the school population has declined and during the name changes, and even today, there have been students, parents, faculty, and staff, and community mentors, working on the ground and producing graduates and leaders who have the skills and passion to make differences in their respective fields and, what might be more important, in their own communities. I am proud that some of them continue to do so in the neighborhoods that still feed into McLain.

To all alumni and former students (even if you weren’t graduated at McLain) and former teachers of McLain, I want to add my eyewitness account that change and transformation educationally is taking place now in a way we haven’t seen before. The school is of course struggling to continue its academic turning-around and to stay off the list of needs to improve state schools, but it is off the list; new magnet school programs at McLain are in the areas where society especially needs skilled leaders: environmental science, health careers, along with aviation. If you are working in some of these career areas, we need your expertise and connections; but regardless, you have skills and stories to share; we also need your presence and financial support to help keep the transformation going. Even if your own children, or grandchildren, are students elsewhere, we know McLain can still beckon to you. Even, like many, if your high school years were not easy ones, we need your support to make them a little easier for the students today who have challenges and obstacles the same or harder than we had. And even, if you are not a McLain alumni, or parent of a McLain student over the years, but have a passion for justice, here is a place to put that passion into real life.

Hope to see you not only at the Dinner (or support us with a contribution if you can’t make the launch party), but also with the McLain Initiative where every small act and help goes a tremendously long way in the lives here. Checks are payable to McLain High School Foundation and can be sent to Post Office Box 4444, Tulsa, OK 74159-0444. The foundation is a tax-exempt 501c3 organization. Dinner costs are $50 per person or $1,000 $2,000 $3,000 or $5,000 Sponsor Levels for tables of eight guests.

For more information or reservations contact:
or phone 918.587.7222

Ron Robinson
Class of 1972, McLain; Executive Director, A Third Place Community Foundation, 6514 N. Peoria Ave.; Board member, Tulsa McLain High School Foundation

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