Reading that piece made me realize just how much of a pioneer I was, especially in the 1970s. And how and why I was.
In 1974, when I was 13, I was "recruited" to play basketball at the Catholic parochial school near me; it turned out that I would be its first black player ever. That said, I wore that status lightly; while I realized that I was making a statement I never felt the burden of being the "first." Having by this time removed any racial resentment that might have caused any problems with my schoolmates, virtually all of them white, I got along with them beautifully and was invited to all of the dances and parties (though, being a tad socially backward, I rarely went).
I didn't realize until the next year, as a high school freshman at a prestigious Catholic prep school, that the barrier had fallen.
I wasn't playing basketball at the scholastic level, so I asked my father about playing Catholic Youth Organization ball for the same parish. Dad waved it off, saying, "They don't allow blacks." A week or two later, the CYO coach called to ask if I were interested in playing. (I didn't.)
At that school I began trying out for plays. Having developed a singing voice the summer between freshman and sophomore years, as a sophomore I made callbacks for the fall play and the director promised me a part in the following spring production. (I ended up with two.) There was one other black kid, a junior, who also was part of the cast; we may have been the first two African-Americans to grace that stage. I developed some popularity at that school as well.
I learned a valuable truth from those experiences that has stayed with me to this day: The best way to "integrate" is not to force your way in but to get to know people on the inside who can vouch for you -- that way folks don't feel put upon and forced to accommodate for the sake of being "politically correct." I took the opportunities that were afforded me at that time, and everyone grew as a result.