Cliff Russell

My Roeper Story is about the lifelong benefits of experiencing human diversity, notably through athletics.

Before beginning at Roeper in 9th grade, I had only attended Detroit Public Schools where my classmates were predominantly or entirely black. I could count the number of white classmates I’d ever had on my fingers. My start at Roeper was the beginning of me spending significant amounts of time around people that didn’t look, dress, talk, dance, act or even think like me. This was my introduction into the world outside of black Detroit.

Roeper gave me my first opportunities to interact with classmates of various ethnic, racial, economic and religious backgrounds, and those experiences allowed me to break through stereotypes and prejudices to understand the sameness of human beings. George Roeper encouraged us to explore these issues. It was liberating. However, these new-found revelations did not come without a price. At times, the culture shock was overwhelming. I often missed the sounds, the sights, the rhythms and the flavor of the black community life that had nurtured and shaped me. While Roeper taught me to embrace new horizons, it also made me more fully appreciate the value of the black culture I’d left behind.

The Roeper campus provided me with plenty of enlightening experiences, but the road trips I took as a member of the Roeper Roughriders football and basketball teams, away from the friendly confines of our school, were perhaps even more impactful as lessons in diversity. Our travels to various small towns across the state not only gave me further opportunities to experience people from different walks of life, but they also forced me to deal with my belief at the time that rural whites were inherently more racist toward blacks. These road trips allowed me to experience the truth for myself.

The vast majority of the people we encountered while playing sports across rural Michigan treated us wonderfully. Some of our opponents had never seen a black person before, but that didn’t prevent us from achieving true sportsmanship or even friendship. Yes, there were a few ugly incidents: students in one town threw rocks at our bus and called our black athletes “niggers” after a basketball game; someone yelled the n-word at us from a passing car in another town; and more. Unfortunately, racism is real. But I will never forget how the athletes and parents at Lake Leelenau St. Mary prepared a feast for our Roeper football team and served it to us prior to a crucial game against Suttons Bay. That trip alone cured me of ever stereotyping any group of people. What I learned through Roeper Athletics bolstered the Roeper Philosophy – People are people, both good and bad, no matter where they live or what they look like.

Today, I am totally comfortable operating in any social setting. Possessing this trait has been invaluable in both my personal and professional dealings. I will forever give the credit to my Roeper Experience. Go Roughriders!

Cliff Russell, Class of 1974
Educating and inspiring gifted students to think as individuals and to engage as a community with compassion for each other and this world.

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