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An Improbable ‘Fraternity’

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Posted on Mar 29, 2013
AP/Michael Dwyer

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaks at College of the Holy Cross after receiving an honorary degree last year.

By Shaun Randol

(Page 4)

At the same time, some of the tools that the men had at Holy Cross, a sense that there is a moral responsibility to letting black students have this opportunity, that’s diminished somewhat.

What’s interesting about Wells is that he went on to Harvard and went to school with Ken Frazier, who’s the CEO of Merck, and Ken Chenault, who’s the CEO of American Express, so his classmates from Harvard are equally impressive. But Holy Cross is the one that has that special place for him. You can’t say it’s all wistful because there’s been huge success. We’re sitting here with a black president. There’s the obvious success.

There is an awareness that just to let things go on as they’re going, to not bring race back into the conversation comes at the expense of the black community to some extent. Maybe race is too much of a conversation to a point where we’re all numb to it, I don’t know. We frame it now as economic opportunity, which I guess is somewhat right.

I think what bothers Thomas so much about the affirmative action conversation is the fact that these kids are being pulled into places where they are being set up to fail. That all the attention is getting them into college when in fact they don’t qualify to be at Harvard and they would do better to be at a Georgia college. There’s no acknowledgment that, in many cases, students are coming out of a school system that has not left them equipped to be in an Ivy League college. He’s aware of that and feels that Holy Cross was a perfect school for him because it was hard, but it was just right for his skills. He says that if he had been coming out of high school today, that he might have been propelled into a program where he couldn’t cope because he wouldn’t be coming in with the same level of academic background. He had some help, the right type of help, and it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. He had the opportunity and he made the most of it.

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Randol: What should the general reader take away from “Fraternity”?

Brady: Ultimately, it’s about a moment in time and to some extent, even though it wasn’t intended to be this, I do think it’s partly a testament to the power of affirmative action and what it can do for people. There’s no question that Ed Jones technically didn’t qualify to be at Holy Cross, but here we are today—he’s a MacArthur genius who’s added to an element of literature we wouldn’t have had if he didn’t put pen to paper.

“Fraternity” says something about leadership coming in many forms and how we have such a limited route through which we bring people up. The kids who had the opportunity to go to school with these 20 guys were better off than the years before, in the same way that the group that followed who had the opportunity to go to school with women were better off. People are better off when you mix it up.

Shaun Randol is the founder and editor of The Mantle. He is also an Associate Fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York City, and a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the PEN American Center. You can follow him on Twitter @shaunrandol.


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