In 1970, Eric Law became one of the first Black students to attend Charlotte Country Day School. He joined two younger Black students that year in integrating what previously had been an all-white institution in south Charlotte.
The two other students would later transfer, but Law, who arrived as a 7th grader, stayed on. He formed friendships there, played sports, and earned a National Merit Scholarship. After graduating near the top of his class in 1976, he went on to earn advanced degrees and embarked in careers in teaching, then later leading non-profit organizations.
Law has served on the school’s board of trustees, and last fall he signed on as co-chair of Country Day’s BIPOC (Black Indigenous and People Of Color) Alumni Committee, whose mission is to foster diversity, equity and inclusion on the Country Day campus.
Law says he never talked much about his time at Country Day. But now, at a time that he describes as “emotionally charged for everyone,” Law has become more vocal. He says that by telling his story, he hopes to encourage and lend support to current and future students of color there.
“This is personally important to me,” he says. “My experience as one of a handful of black students in the 1970s is very different than what they are having now.”
Law describes Country Day as “a family,” a place with an atmosphere “where people care about kids and education.”
But Law also is not blind to history.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Mecklenburg County to desegregate its public schools in 1970, Law’s parents worried about sending their son to a public school during such a charged atmosphere. They enrolled the then-12-year-old Law in Country Day, which was founded in 1941, well before other area private schools sprung up in response to integration.
Law was nervous that first day. He had seen a cutout of the school’s then-mascot, the Rebel. (Country Day changed to its current mascot, the Buccaneer, in 1980.)
“My dad said to give it a chance,” he recalled, adding, “I didn’t have a Dorothy Counts experience,” a reference to the Charlotte woman who, in 1957 and at age 15, faced hostile crowds as she famously integrated Harry Harding High School.
Law credits his homeroom teacher, John Bristor, with making him feel welcome at Country Day.
“He didn’t single me out. I was just one of the kids,” Law said. “He was a really good man.”
On the whole, Law said the experience was positive. He was exposed to different music genres. He discovered a love of foreign languages, a passion encouraged by his teachers. (He went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Spanish, which he taught at Johnson C. Smith University for eight years.)
Law says he was never more proud of Country Day than in July 2009, when the school announced the hiring of Mark Reed, a Black man, as Head of School. Law had long viewed Country Day as a trailblazer because of its efforts to increase diversity and inclusivity. (Reed will leave Country Day in June to become managing director of the John M. Belk Endowment, and Country Day is searching for his replacement.)
In 1998, the school hired Brian Wise as director of diversity planning. Since then, the number of Black students enrolled in Country Day has climbed from 31 to 158 — a more than 500% increase.
About 27% of the school’s newly enrolled students this year are identified as students of color, and the re-enrollment rate for students of color is about 97%.
“I always felt good about Country Day, and felt even better about how they managed to increase the size of the African American student body and step up recruitment of Black faculty after I graduated,” Law said.
Since joining the BIPOC alumni committee, Law has talked with committee members monthly. One recurring topic: how to address allegations of racism at private schools nationwide – stories that are being shared on social media by current and former students of color.
Law said the concerns being aired provide “a great opportunity for school communities to take a step back, reflect, dig deeper into the comments and student experiences, and figure out the best way to address things.”
There’s no magic bullet, he says.
Law says he and other BIPOC committee members are eager to help Country Day build its evolving community.
“I’m proud of the efforts Country Day is making to be proactive with this,” he says. “I’m proud of how they are seeking to address these issues.”
About Eric Law
Occupation: Executive Director, Promising Pages
The nonprofit collects new and donated books and shares them with children in underserved communities. Studies show that children who can’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Promising Pages distributes more than 190,000 free books annually.
“Every time I move away, I end up coming back. I love this place.”
What inspires him:
“Charlotte has become a magnet for people to come for economic opportunity, even if those opportunities aren’t always fulfilled. Because I love my own town, I want people to enjoy being here as much as I have, and for the quality of life for all of us to be better.”
wife, Rita; daughter Markitta; son-in-law Al; and a 10-year-old granddaughter, Addisyn
music and golf