A Fractured Reunion, Without Black Men

Commentator Amy Alexander says the absence of African-American men at her high school reunion brought home the harsh realities of the obstacles — such as drugs and unemployment — faced by her black male classmates after graduation.

ED GORDON, host:

A high school reunion can take a sad turn when you notice who's not there. Commentator Amy Alexander says that's what made her last reunion bittersweet.

AMY ALEXANDER reporting:

The e-mail arrived stealthily, without warning. This fall, the 1981 graduating class of Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco will hold its 25th year reunion.

Reading that e-mail brought mixed emotions. Should I make the cross-country trek from my current home in Maryland? Or stay here with my husband and children, thereby missing the time-warped sensation of reuniting with adults who had once been the center of my teenaged universe?

Don't get me wrong; I mostly have good memories of the years I spent at Lincoln High, a WPA era complex in San Francisco's foggy, wistfully named Sunset District.

My class was made up of several hundred middle-income students from San Francisco neighborhoods named Ingleside, Oceanview, Parkside, and the Sunset. It was also a mind-boggling ethnic mix. Second and third generation Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and Italian kids who studied, played sports, listened to disco, heavy metal, rap music; who made out and had fistfights right alongside black and white students.

By my senior year, our class president was a dashing, muscle-bound playa named Marco Florez(ph), the son of Mexican immigrants.

I edited the campus newspaper, the Lincoln Log, and spent too much time in the theater arts department. The big man on campus, a handsome brother named Zephoni Lee(ph), was a 6-foot, 4-inch tall running back on our championship Mustang football team. He went on to play at USC. My best friends were an Armenian-American girl, two African-American girls, and a pale-skinned, green-eyed girl whose occasional slip into rapid fire Spanish reminded us that her mother hailed from South America. We all were native San Franciscans, all from working class families led by mothers and father who expected us to graduate and move on to college.

Back then, we didn't think of our vast public school as lacking anything. Obviously, it would be great to see some of these kids again, though clearly the passage of a quarter century since we first did that pomp and circumstance walk means that we aren't really kids anymore.

But along with the financial challenge of getting to the 25th reunion, there's this: In October 2001, I attended my 20th class reunion. We danced the night away in a banquet room of a two-star hotel and drank as much alcohol as we wanted from the cash bar. But among the 200 or so who made that reunion, only a smattering were African-American, and hardly any of my black male classmates showed up.

Where are all the brothers? I asked a few of the other black women who had attended. Of course, I had already heard some of those sad stories. How such-and-such had landed in jail in the late 1980s, how that one was last spotted panhandling along market Street, gaunt from crack use. The sheer lopsidedness had shocked me. It had been mad-fun to see my former classmates, those no longer smirking white guys, the never shy Chinese girls, the still lovey-dovey Latino couples whose faces had hardly changed at all in 20 years. But I missed my African-American brothers, and felt their absence in my bones at that 20th.

I haven't yet decided whether I'll attend the 25th reunion of the Lincoln High Class of '81, but if I do, I will pray beforehand that the sad demographic trend I noticed at our 20th, the veritable disappearance of so many black male classmates, has not gotten worse.

After all, wherever we are in the country and the world, we'll forever be the mighty, mighty Mustangs.

GORDON: Amy Alexander is an author and media critic in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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