Civil Rights Act Turns 50

KC teen sees his generation making the law even better

Decked out in a charcoal gray suit and bowtie, Gabriel Unruh, 18, of Kansas City stood amid about 100 other teens earlier this spring as a member of the U.S. Senate Youth Delegation in the nation’s capital.

With eloquence, the teen expressed his passion for education and policy change that would do more to challenge students to become critical thinkers rather than test-takers. His comments streamed live on C-SPAN.

Unruh, who is half Hispanic and half white, is admittedly a thinker, and racial diversity in classrooms is something he has spent a fair amount of time contemplating.

“In my high school, Platte County High School, the social economic differences are apparent; it’s geographical,” he says, adding that cultural and racial diversity are lacking there, as is probably the case in many suburban schools across the country. Urban schools tend to be more populated with minority students, says Unruh, who just graduated and plans to attend American University in Washington, D.C., to study international relations and education policy.

People can’t assume, Unruh says, that schools are “safe from racial discrimination” just because they are desegregated by law.

At Platte County High, racial groups have unintentionally isolated themselves in student-created clubs, “so we students created an umbrella group with representatives from each club in the school. That encourages white students and others to work together,” Unruh says.

He’s aware that if not for the civil rights legislation, he might not have the opportunities he enjoys today because of discrimination his parents or immigrant grandparents might have faced.

The country, he says, has come a long way with civil rights. “We just got our first black president,” Unruh says.

But, he says he and many others in his generation see the civil rights legislation as a living document.

“There are many areas for it to continue growing,” Unruh says. The first woman president may be just a few years away, and Unruh says he expects to see the first Hispanic president.