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Activist And Son: 'We Stood There For All The Kids'


April 27, 2009

Milo Sheff says his experience in the Hartford school system often depended on how each teacher viewed the lawsuit that bore his name in 1989.

"Some teachers would let me do whatever I wanted. Some would send me to the office over anything," Sheff, now 30, said recently.

Signing on as the main plaintiff in the suit, then-10-year-old Sheff lent his name to the fight for equal education in Connecticut. But while thousands of students have benefited from the changes prompted by the lawsuit, Sheff said his own education suffered.

He missed out on sports and clubs, he said, instead spending most of his free time at organizational meetings or talking to the press.

"I had to be super-adult all the time," Sheff said.

Peer pressure related to the case eventually led him to leave Weaver High School and complete his work for a diploma in adult education.

Now, with a clean-shaven head and tattoo-inked arms, Sheff is a musician, rapping and producing under the independent label Harsh Reality. He and his mother, Elizabeth Horton Sheff, recently reflected on the case, its effects on the region and its impact on their personal lives.

"I got death threats, phone calls," Horton Sheff recalled. "Being a pioneer in a civil rights action, some of that is expected."

In a way, Sheff said, he was born for his role in the lawsuit, which argued that segregated schools are inferior and violate the constitutional right to an equal education. After a lengthy trial and an appeal, the state Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs. But the struggle to integrate the schools continues today.

"Milo is an activist's son," Horton Sheff said. "By age 10, he was used to marches on Washington, community meetings and candlelight vigils. He was used to that kind of level of civic engagement."

They knew the process would be long when they agreed to participate in the case, and that Sheff would likely not benefit from the results. And even as they testified about the deplorable conditions of Hartford schools, Horton Sheff said, she wouldn't pull her son out of the system.

Today, Horton Sheff has no regrets.

"Some people might say 'You sacrificed your son's education.' And maybe, in a way, I did," Horton Sheff said. "But we stood there for all the kids, who have a constitutional right to a good education."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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