Who Is Olecia James? New Details On The Mississippi Student Who Was Looked Over For Salutorian Because She's Black

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Who Is Olecia James? New Details On The Mississippi Student Who Was Looked Over For Salutorian Because She's Black

Everybody knows that high school is a lot of work. Students don't just have to manage their changing bodies, hormones and navigating personal relationships, they also have to bust their proverbial humps studying, reading and pulling all-nighters in the hopes of getting into the college of their dreams. It's a lot of pressure. That's why when high school seniors finally graduate they are often recognized or acknowledged for all of their achievements in front of their friends and family members. Olecia James was the ultimate example of the perfect high school student. She was dedicated, passionate and number two in her entire class. So why did her school district refuse to acknowledge her? Find out her story and why they made this decision below. Who is Olecia James?

1. The Lawsuit 

The Cleveland School District has a lot of explaining to do, and Olecia James is going to make sure that they do just that. You see, Olecia is suing the Mississippi school district in which her high school is located (the Clevleand name is confusing, I know). The reason for her suit? The school made a white student salutatorian of her graduating class, even though Olecia was the student with the higher GPA. If this sounds like something that should have stopped happening decades and decades ago, you're absolutely right. Sadly, considering the school district in question, it's also not that surprising: In 2017 the school made headlines for having to be desegregated. That's right, the courts found that the district was essentially running white schools and black schools. In 2017. The reason Olecia is being overlooked according to the school district is also racist: some of the classes she took at the historically black high school prior to integration are given less weight, being docked so-called "quality points". Excuse me as I go back to back and mourn for our children. 

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2. Not The First 

In light of this flagrant prejudice, James is suing for a change in policy, a formal announcement that she is the salutatorian and financial remuneration. This story is pretty awful. What makes it more awful? It isn't the first time like this something has happened in this deeply divided district. In 2017 Jasmine Shephard's mother, Sherry filed a suit of her own. In her suit she pointed out that she was forced to share the status of valedictorian with another student... who happened to be white and to have a lower grade point average than she did! Responding to the suit, the school district released its own statement saying: “The district has a racially neutral policy regarding the valedictorian honor. The policy is when there is a grade point average tie between two or more students, the students share the valedictorian honor. In this case, the district followed its policy. The students involved had identical grade point averages and shared the valedictorian honor.” It's up to a court to decide when the suit goes to trial in June. 

3. James' Credentials 

Olecia isn't some kid who is whining because they are used to get their own way. In fact, she's anything but. What she's asking for it's simply her due. She's a hard-working student, who just finished her first year of college. Before college even started she was enrolling in enrichment classes where she was proud to share that she earned top marks. Her general awesomeness, while unrecognized by her high school, has already been recognized by her college, Alcorn University. She was named "“freshman of the year” for her bold stance against her high school and its racism. She finished up her freshman year at college with a 4.0 and was named a President's Scholar. Did I mention that she also did ROTC and that her military involvement earned her a scholarship from the army? The kid is no slouch! She isn't suing because "it isn't fair," she is suing because the racist actions of the school simply aren't right. 

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4. It's Not Just The Title 

It's a story that is enough to make you heartsick and then some. It's not like Olecia being denied second place in her class is just a status thing either, you see. Initially, she was going to be given a scholarship for her top rank in her year. That scholarship was revoked based on the school's bizarre and offensive policies. Speaking about it herself, Olecia points out that this isn't just about her. It's a lot bigger: “I knew what I had worked for. I knew what the other East Side students had worked hard for. To see it taken away was heartbreaking," she said simply. 

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5. Why It Matters

Perhaps the simplest statement Olecia's made about this suit is the most important. While talking about the suit and the press coverage on Facebook she said: “It’s bigger than me. Praying I beat the case, daily. God, I let go. Do ya thang.” And she's right, she isn't just hoping to clear the record for her own sake, but for any other student color who hopes to have their work and dedication acknowledged and appreciated. Luckily, she isn't alone. She has an overwhelming amount of support. People are posting their own messages of encouragement on her Facebook, too: “I also read your story on NBC tonight. I’m appalled that this happened to you. I’m praying that justice will be served. It’s so difficult to understand why someone would do this to you. God bless you. Keep pushing for the honor you deserve. You’re obviously a very bright young woman and I wish you the best for your future.”

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cats, Batman and Margot. She's an experienced generalist with a passion for lifestyle, geek news, pop culture, and true crime. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr