THE BLOG
05/31/2016 03:47 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2017

The Art of Healing

Philip Sossou, you're doing our school proud.

The senior at the prestigious Boston Latin School has garnered tremendous praise for his gift to the Class of 2016: hand-drawn portraits of each of his 411 classmates, all displayed throughout the corridors of the cherished and controversy-plagued school.

This gesture was more than just a display of Sossou's tremendous artistic talent: as the Boston Globe notes, it was an attempt to diminish the divisions at Boston Latin, which is currently under federal investigation after reports of rampant racism at the iconic institution:

"Our class has been kind of divided," said Sossou, an 18-year-old. "Having these pictures helps us to embrace our diversity."

Latin School has been mired in negative news after allegations of racism surfaced, with students of color complaining that administrators were slow to respond to the use of racial epithets at the school.

The drawings -- taped above the school's purple lockers, near doorways, and along the hallway -- aim to change a negative narrative around Sossou's beloved school, he said.

The portraits -- gleaned from Facebook posts and shots from Sossou's smartphone -- show seniors in their element, and came as a bolt out of the blue to most of them. One student is cuddling a cat, another flashed a peace sign, nearly everyone had a smile.

"I was trying to show everyone in a positive light," Sossou said...

Sossou -- bound for Bunker Hill Community College this fall and later, he hopes, the University of Massachusetts Amherst to study computer science -- said that when he began the project, he just wanted to get better with charcoal.

"But after that, the whole thing became altruistic," he said.

Soon, he had drawn 50 portraits and then 100, then 200. He worked when he could, taking extended breaks only twice since early February before finishing up last week.

"There were times that I wanted to stop," he said. "I thought they probably are not going to appreciate this because we are so divided."

Thank goodness he didn't stop. While art cannot end racism--heck, the election of an African-American president couldn't accomplish that lofty goal, contrary to the
dishonest arguments of syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker--it can certainly help to soften the hard lines that divide us. It takes courage to try to heal the racial wounds that cover the body of Boston Latin--and this young man is as courageous as he is talented.

As a 1995 graduate of Boston Latin, I've been horrified by the reports of a deteriorating racial climate at the school. Those who opposed the the mid-1990s legal effort to eliminate policies intended to foster diversity at Boston Latin warned that if those policies were struck down by the federal courts, black and Hispanic students who made it into Boston Latin after the elimination of those policies would find themselves under siege. This has now happened, and I can only imagine the amount of racial hostility Sossou faced during his years at the school. Clearly, he has overcome it--but it was an obstacle that never should have been placed in his way to begin with.

I can't help noting that the individual who spearheaded the legal effort to eliminate diversity policies at Boston Latin noted years ago that the actual plaintiff in the first of the two cases that led to Boston Latin's current racial strife--the individual's own daughter--felt very strongly that merit, not race, should be the deciding factor in admissions to the school, and that "If I won the race, I should get the medal."

Two decades later, it's clear that Philip Sossou has won his race, having faced obstacles the plaintiff in that case couldn't even imagine. He deserves a medal too. A medal of honor.