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I have wanted to tell The Prep School Negro story ever since I first walked through the door of my private school. I was selected to attend Germantown Friends School (GFS) in Philadelphia, PA on a full academic scholarship. GFS is an elite prep school in Philadelphia founded by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) over 150 years ago. The school has been repeatedly rated by The Wall Street Journal as one of the best schools in the country.
I came from a lower-income background and, prior to GFS, I had very little contact with people who were neither black nor poor. I attended the school through the Community Scholars Program (CSP) that GFS created in an attempt to effect change in society during the civil rights movement.
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In response to the September 1963 church bombing by racists in Birmingham, Alabama, GFS created the CSP to bring local children into GFS as Community Scholars. Twenty years later, I was selected as a Scholar, and my life was forever changed. Students who bore the names of grand department stores, major construction companies and factories in Philadelphia surrounded me. I had heard those names all of my life and never connected them to actual people. One of my classmates was the son of the owner of the factory where my grandmother and aunt had toiled all their lives, and where my mother was still working. The school tuition was more than my mother’s annual salary.
While at GFS, I also thought of the family and the community I had left behind. We had been trained to live as second-class citizens, and I felt guilty about gaining access to this world of privilege and knowledge. I wanted to share this new world with those who were not able to walk with me. My former elementary classmates were not reading “The Iliad” or traveling the world on a choir tour. The idea for The Prep School Negro grew out of my first days at GFS. It has been with me ever since. As I reflect back, I can see more clearly the internal struggles I faced as an adolescent and as a young adult. This documentary will tell my story and the story of other prep school Negroes like me.
André Robert Lee