The predominantly African-American community of West Akron is rife with discontent tonight after Jamal Johnson, a black student who attends a special summer-school program provided by the Akron school district, was forced to ride at the back of the bus for the entire forty-five minute ride. Shanteal Johnson, mother of Jamal, was understandably angry that her son was seated in the very rear of the bus, despite there being many other seats available.
“This is racism, plain and simple. They put my boy at the back of that bus, and there were all of them other seats available. They can say what they want, and they can spin it however, but this is a direct slap in the face of Rosa Parks, and an assault on African-Americans by the Akron School district,” said Johnson.
In response to the allegations of racism, Akron Public Schools has released an explanatory, yet scathing statement.
“While we do acknowledge that Jamal Johnson was seated at the back of the bus, we contest that the seating arrangements had anything to do with race. Yes, Jamal is African-American. He is also a paraplegic, and our handicapped accessible buses have a wheelchair lift at the rear entrance. The chair is lifted and rolled in through the rear door, where it is secured to the floor with a clamp system. So while he was seated at the back of the bus, the seating was simply due to the mechanical characteristics of the vehicle. Handicapped students of other races and heritages are seated in the same fashion. Any accusation of racism here is idiotic and patently ridiculous.”
The prepared statement was met with derision and incredulity by some Akronites who believe that the ramp story is just a convenient excuse, and Shanteal herself is undecided about whether or not to believe its contents.
“It all seems contrived to me, like maybe they knew when they designed these buses that there would be black handicapped students riding at the back of them someday. Maybe what they say is true, Lord knows I hope that it is; but for some reason, I feel that everyone is laughing at our expense. I guess I’ll take the statement at face value for now, but if I find out this has all been a big joke at the expense of the African-American people, there will be hell to pay.”
Throughout the awkward situation with its finger-pointing and flaring tempers, perhaps eleven year old Jamal has been the one to keep the coolest head.
“I like sitting at the back of the bus,” he said with a smile. “I don’t understand the problem. The back of the bus is where the cool kids sit anyway. It’s easier for me to talk to the other kids back there.”