[Interview] Students With Segregated Prom Bravely Take Matters Into Their Own Hands

Photo: (Mareshia Rucker (left) and Stephanie Sinnot (right). Credit: Getty)

Photo: Mareshia Rucker, left, and classmate Stephanie Sinnot. (Getty)

During her junior year, Mareshia Rucker had fantasies about prom, but then it hit her that high school students in her county had two separate proms — one for black students and one for white students. Now that she’s a senior, Mareshia and some of her Wilcox County High classmates have spearheaded a campaign to hold an integrated prom that all students may attend.

This story has gotten international attention, especially since many people were unaware that segregated proms still existed. Thankfully the campaign has been a success, and a prom for everyone will be taking place this weekend. We spoke to Mareshia about what she had to do to make this happen, what sort of response she’s gotten and the biggest thing she’s learned while fighting for her rights.

ACT: Many are thinking, “In 2013, this?” Why were proms still segregated?

MARESHIA: Racism runs really deep in this county [Wilcox County, Georgia]. That’s about it. Some whites in the community don’t want their kids going to prom with black kids, or kids of any other race — which is really odd, considering that they do everything else together.

ACT: What have you and other students done to help change this?

: First I talked to my best friend to see if she agreed with me on the idea [of an integrated prom]. She did. So we asked classmates how they felt about it and what were they willing to do about it. Some of the more high-class Caucasian kids in class didn’t really want to talk about it and kind of ignored us, which is fine, too, because everyone has a right to their own opinion.

We got together, formed a committee, and we started planning basic things like where we were going to have the prom, who’s going to be DJ, catering, things like that. Finally, we got to what kind of fundraisers we were going to have to raise money. The school doesn’t sponsor prom, so we knew we had to raise the funds needed to carry this out. So we’ve done car washes, doughnut sales, raffle tickets. . .a lot of stuff.

Ms. Harriet Hollis, who established the Project for Racial Healing, has also been amazing. If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have gotten our first interview. I think people give us a little too much credit, because if it weren’t for her, people wouldn’t know about us.

ACT: What has been the response, both locally and beyond?

MARESHIA: I mean, beyond our county the response has been amazing. You always have those few naysayers, but as far as everyone outside of our county, they’ve been completely supportive, willing to do whatever they can, whatever’s in their ability to do to help out. As far as inside of our county, most people feel we’re making the county look bad, that it wasn’t this big of a deal and we shouldn’t have done all this. But in our opinion, if they felt that it wasn’t that big of a deal, then why couldn’t their kids have prom with us, or we have prom with them? They have their nasty comments, their ugly looks.

ACT: What can people do to help this situation?

: A lot of people have messaged and called the superintendent and tried to talk to people on the school board. If enough people talk to you and they’re all on the same page, eventually you’re going to take that into consideration and hopefully apply it. It’s been really helpful when people do that. Like I said, the few that don’t agree . . . I mean, when they talk about cruel and unusual punishment, we’ve had some cruel and unusual words. So the support really does help, to know people outside care about what we’re doing.

ACT: What are you hoping happens for next year’s prom?

MARESHIA: I’m hoping that we actually change how the school is now. We’re trying to make it so the school will sponsor one prom next year. Whether they do or not, we will be coming back to help, because we know how hard it is, and how much work it is.

ACT: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from fighting for your right?

MARESHIA: That when you truly want something and you work and you fight hard to get that, people realize that all of us, no matter what we look like, are in essence the same. People have deemed the world to be a bad place, but it’s actually quite nice. There have been people from all over the world who are in support of what we’re doing and have been extremely encouraging.

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