Newton Recalls High School Encounter With Racism–“You’re Not What Colleges Are Looking For”

Newton maroon
File image: Newton in City Council chambers.

Harding High School grad, music teacher, first black City Council president, state representative, state senator, an involuntary five-year vacation from politics, followed by a second-chance message and now back on the City Council while assimilating ex offenders back into the work force, Ernie Newton is a survivor’s tale that inspires his supporters and irritates his detractors.

Thirty years ago he overcame a substance abuse battle that printed others on the obituary page. He doesn’t go away easily, a point he makes in a Black History Month commentary sharing a flashpoint encounter with a guidance counselor with blurry vision.

My first experience that I recall about how racism impacted my life occurred while attending high school. I must have been a junior or senior at the time of the incident, as I was planning for a life beyond high school.

This vocational advisory session involved a trip to the guidance office to explore my journey in life. I was excited to meet my guidance counselor and to talk about my dreams and aspirations of attending college. I was confident that she was filled with ideas and suggestions that would help me select the perfect college of my dreams.

As a way of background, my guidance counselor was a middle age white woman. She was working as guidance counselor at my school for several years. By all accords she was pleasant and knowledgeable about the many resources available. Upon sharing my dream with her about attending college, she immediately recoiled in her seat and boldly announced that, “You’re not what colleges are looking for.”

These words went through me like a hot blade through butter. This woman doesn’t know me or what I am capable of. How can she just summarily dismiss my dreams? Why did she even say this? Is she afraid of what an educated black man can accomplish? Whatever her intentions, it did not matter. For I was not going to let this middle age white woman stand in my path to success. Throughout life, I have always met people telling me what I can or cannot do because of who I am, where I came from or because the color of my skin.

People think they can build walls in front of me, but I use those wall to keep the negative ones out of my life. I surrounded myself with positive role models like the late Ernie Parker who mentored me as a student in the University of Bridgeport Upward Bound Program. Because of his support and many like him, I was accepted into Winston-Salem State University, in Salem, North Carolina. The education that I received in college laid the groundwork for my career in politics.

As a local and state elected official, I was part of landmark legislation that helped build and stabilize our community. I became a voice for those in need and a champion for education and economic development. Unfortunately, later in my political career I made a bad decision and served time for this indiscretion. While the court was just in finding me guilty the judicial system was inherently biased with the sentence, for I ended up being sentenced to five years with three years of probation. Compare this sentence to former Governor Rowland who was convicted of a worse crime and ended up with a one year sentence with three years of probation. You cannot tell me that race was not involved.

While racism is an inherent part of society it only thrives if we allow it to. Racism is promoted by ignorance and fear. As a proud black man, who has faced many injustices in this world, I could have easily become angry and bitter, but I didn’t. I use the world’s ignorance and fear to propel me forward and to lift others as I go. I will not allow systemic racism to win nor will I allow it to hold any brother or sister back, for together we shall become a beacon of hope in a storm or ignorance.



  1. Ernie, thanks for sharing that history about your self. Ernie I remembere those days so well, you ere young and looking to be involve in doing postive things for the city. You said, that you surrounded yourself with positive role models like the late Ernie Parker. Ernie Parker was one of those unsung heroes who helped to inspire other blacks. Ernie, I remember back in 1980 when State Rep. Margaret Morton was running for the State Senate and how you would be with her walking door to door all over, you were always dressed like a proffessional person all the time in a suit and tie as a music teacher and as a campaign worker. People joke about the phrase that you being the Moses of his people but what most people don’t know is how hard you worked in the East End trying to help others like Senator Morton to get elected so that could help make change and there you were, a young black dress like a businessman trying to make change. It was fun watching you and Tom Coble and Ralph Ford walking together with Ms Morton campaigning on Stratford Ave. Ernie you know at times I might say someting against you on OIB but most peope don’t know that it’s never personal, we would talk at church about what whatever it is, like Donnie Day would say that you are like our play cousin, we won’t let anybody talk about you. Your life is like a public book, the bad and the good, we all have fallin down but what’s more important is to get up, acknowledge our failing and to atone and move forward and that’s you Ernie and my brother, I still love you man.

    1. Ron
      You and Don have known me over 40years. You guys were best friends with my brother in-law Joe Kirkland. Just want you guys to know. We may disagree sometimes but I know it’s nothing you and Don wouldn’t do for me if I need you and Don. I loss my nephew this week he was 36 years old my brother Victor son.

  2. Ernie, was this an abridged version of your story?
    You did not mention high school academic performance or SAT scores.
    Were you an honor roll student? Were they a factor in your guidance counselor advising you that you were not what colleges were looking for?
    My grades and SAT score were not good and was advised not to apply to some schools. I did not know it at the time, but I even had white privilege.
    I’ve heard your story being told by young people today. They parrot what you and others tell them, blaming racist white people for holding them back from attaining their dreams. The real reason is poor grades and SAT score which, of course, they feel is not their fault.
    Young people need to hear your story, but don’t give them excuses to claim they are victims.

    1. Tom White, do you know the high school academic performance or SAT scores of your doctor and attorney,
      How about where your doctor placed on the medical license, you must pass a three-step test called the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), also known as the board exam and where your lawyer placed on the bar association of a jurisdiction that a lawyer must pass in order to be admitted to the bar of that jurisdiction?

    2. Tom
      It couldn’t be about my SAT scores because I Graduated from Winston Salem State University. My senior year I was elected as Class Representative for the class of 78. I also finished with honors.Need I say more.

  3. Ernie, my sons fiancee was told by her guidance counselor not to waste her parents money by going to college and for her to just find a job as a secretary somewhere. Like you she didn’t listen to this white woman and instead went to CCSU where she graduated in four years with her BA.
    The SAT is not as useful in predicting the college success of students of color as it is for White students (Fleming, 2013). American history is littered for 400 years of Black’s getting bad advise from white people who never had our best interest at heart.
    It was like that 400 years ago, it was like that 40 years ago when you graduated, like that 20 years ago when my future daughter in law graduated and it will be like that when our great grand kids graduate. No matter how hard you, try you can’t stop us now!

  4. *** While everyone is telling old high school stories about either achieving or under achieving. I remember my big achievement while at Bassick in my senior year, the judge @ bpt. superior court, we called him (Johnny Cool) cause he always had sun-glasses on; told me that my school achievement was not going to get me to “Yale” but instead “Jail”. So its the military or “jail” for you sir, make a choice! *** U.S. ARMY ***


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