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The Laurinburg  Institute
Leon Rice

"The Laurinburg Institute taught me how to live and thrive in America while being black."

At the turn of the last century, education was not readily accessible to African Americans. Public schools were not open for blacks in the south, for many reasons—share cropping, black codes, and the fact that America was just 41 years out of slavery. The farm owners did not want educated African Americans; they wanted fieldhands to pick crops. It did not make economic sense to the land owners, who preferred to keep the workers illiterate. If members of the black community wanted an education, they’d have to do it for themselves.

In 1904, Emmanuel And Tinny McDuffie came from Alabama by foot to Laurinburg, North Carolina to start a school for the black community. This came about through the request of a local businessman, W.P. Evans, who wrote to Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute asking for help to educate the growing black population of his town. Tuskegee had no one available to help and turned to Mr. William Edwards at Snow Hill Academy in Alabama for a recommendation. He nominated the McDuffies, recent graduates of Snow Hill, who readily agreed to go to North Carolina. When they got to Laurinburg, the McDuffies and the Laurinburg community founded and built the school on a small parcel of swampland. With 15 cents in the treasury and its first student starting in September of ‘04, Laurinburg Institute was born.

Laurinburg was one of more than 100 black boarding schools along the east coast and in the deep south. Today only a few still survive. Nevertheless, schools like Laurinburg Institute—or Piney Woods in Mississippi—are needed now, maybe more than ever. They are life saving institutions for many young black men and women coming from the inner cities and poor rural areas of America. One only needs to look at what’s happening in black America today to see why.
In 1954, thanks to the Supreme Court, desegregation in public schools became the law of the land. School systems suddenly needed to accommodate many more students, and found they were in need of new buildings. In Scotland County, where Laurinburg was, officials asked the McDuffie family to transfer the school over to the county so they could avoid having to put up a new brick building. The McDuffie family had the sense to refuse the request, and the county threatened to shut the school down. The institute was moved, brick by brick, to where it stands today, in order to escape further troubles.

There are many prep schools in every population center in the US, but very few prepare students the way Laurinburg Institute does. The Institute teaches the whole person, explicitly teaching the skills you need to navigate the majority culture as well as academic skills and athletic skills you find at most prep schools.. They teach you how to carry yourself as an African American and be successful in life well after your high school days are gone.
Not many secondary schools teach young black men how to handle adversity and setbacks as stepping stones to get to their goals. Laurinburg’s motto is “Deeds not Words”—students learn to assess, adapt, and overcome the many challenges that young black men and women face. I remember seeing kids come to Laurinburg Institute as weak students, struggling academically, and with a poor sense of themselves in the world. The faculty would work with students one-on-one to get them up to speed. They were doing this long before all the advances for students with learning differences came along. Their model was to take each student as they were, and to work with her or him as a unique person.

At Laurinburg Institute every moment in the day was a teaching moment—way beyond the usual curriculum. I remember going to the store and a member of the faculty asked me, “Do you really need that?” He asked me to think about where I spent my money and what I spent it on. The question would become, “Is this a need or a want?” This lesson was taught to me by the Headmaster and President of the school, Dr. Frank McDuffie Sr. He taught us that every dollar is power, capital power. He encouraged us to think about who we handed that power to, so we wouldn’t blindly give it to those who didn't care about our community. That’s a lesson every school should teach, that capital is the true power in the US.

It seemed that at the Institute you could catch a lesson at any time. I got schooled on everything. Once I was reading a book called the Black Titan about the life of A.G. Gaston, a black businessman and millionaire. Dr. McDuffie and his brother caught me reading it, so right then and there they told me to complete a book report for them, due by Monday—less than a week away. Well, Monday came and I remember quietly handing the assignment to the secretary, hoping I could avoid having to talk about it. I knew if I handed it in to Dr. McDuffie, he’d ask a bunch of questions and I’d have to talk. I thought I was in the clear, but later in the day Dr. McDuffie caught me at the end of an assembly and had me tell the whole school about the book. What started as a book report turned out to be a lesson on being able to speak in public. By me being put on the spot, this experience taught me how to rise to the occasion and get things done. There were no shadows to exist in at Laurinburg.

These lessons have served me well, way beyond the usual prep school education of academics and sports and leadership. Now, I could sit here and name all the famous people who came through Laurinburg to show I’m not the only one who left there and made good in the world. But that’s not the kind of success I’m talking about. Let me get to the heart of the matter: The Laurinburg Institute taught me how to live and thrive in America while being black. That’s been a huge influence in my life, and schools like Laurinburg and Piney Woods provide a model for how we could reach the divergent community.

Laurinburg Institute trains students to succeed by fundamentally understanding the challenges they face and providing role models who can show you the way through them. The schools recruit students who would ordinarily never have the chance to attend a private school, kids from the inner cities of America or war-torn countries where life has little value. The Laurinburg model takes these students—many of whom have already been written off by society—and helps them find the skills and confidence to face a world that will use any excuse to write them off.

So, students like me—struggling to find their confidence in a world of misunderstanding and institutional barriers—are transformed into confident, active members of society. We go out into the world armed with the tools of argument and research and evidence, as well an understanding of the ways we do fit into society. All schools should follow the example of Historically Black institutions like Laurinburg and remove the shadows that the divergent community exists in right now. When the faculty and community all fundamentally understand the issues facing the students, they can be taught to adapt and overcome, no matter what obstacles we face. I learned that at Laurinburg, and it’s a lesson that’s lasted.



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 Submissions
Call for Submissions!

To submit your writing or art, read the relevant guidelines below:

Prose and Poetry 
We are always looking for essays, opinions, creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry for inclusion in Divergents. Our content is made for, by, and about the experience of living atypically in a neurotypical world. We are especially interested in stories that celebrate neurodiversity and feature the unique ways divergent populations interact with and contribute to their communities. We love stories that raise awareness of ancillary issues neurotypicals might not have ever thought of. For example, a story about your Autism diagnosis and what that means isn't quite what we're looking for. A story about having a scary run in with the police because they aren't trained to identify or deal with people on the spectrum is.

For all submissions, the following criteria apply:

  • Submissions should be emailed to submissions@divergents-magazine.org
  • Your submission should either be attached as a Word document (.doc) or a working link to a Google Doc. 
  • While we don’t have hard limits on length, prose submissions are ideally between 2,000 and 3,000 words. Poetry should be able to fit on one page (Sorry, Dante)
  • In your submission document, include the following information at the beginning, before the body of the piece: 
    • Title
    • Your name as you’d like it to appear
    • Your email address
  • If we accept your submission, understand that we may make changes to it for issues of length, clarity, or tone. 

Visual Art Submission Guidelines

We want to see any art in any medium: paintings, drawings, collages, mosaics, sculptures, and more are all welcome.
For clarity and efficiency, we ask you to submit a list of your images (in pdf, Word or raw text in email) which should follow this format:

Artist's name:
Artist's e-mail address:
Artists Social Media links:
—then the images should be listed below in this format:
  1. number
  2. Title of piece
  3. Materials used
  4. Dimensions of the work (in inches or centimeters)
  5. Year of the works creation
We ask that you rename the image files with the artists name and the number that corresponds to the image list, this will help alleviate confusion

  • Email the images and the list of images of your work to our Art department : Arts@divergents-magazine.org, or send to us using WeTransfer to the same email address
  • Total size of image files should be no more than 250MB per image preferably
  • Images should be high resolution (200-300 dpi), lower resolution images just won't print clearly and we want to represent you in your best light!
  • If you have any questions you can email Christina Tedesco: Arts@divergents-magazine.org
[If you're unsure of how to best photograph your artwork, this video can help you]
About Divergents
Mission Statement:

Divergents Magazine works to accelerate the societal paradigm shift from “Individuals With Disabilities” to “Neurodiversity.”

Who We Are:

Divergents Magazine is a community of atypical writers, artists and thinkers who fearlessly share our experience and perspective without the pygmalion filter of the “disability” paradigm. The term “Neuro-Divergent” describes people whose processing profile displays significant differences from the neurotypical, such that it would receive a diagnosis — e.g., dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism -- but includes anyone who’s nature is divergent.

Why Divergents Magazine is needed:

People from families with divergent neurological characteristics are systematically subjugated to the prejudice of the neurotypical majority. Although the legal framework that drives the paradigm of disability, artificially limits the official percentage of the population to 14%, this is an arbitrary number driven by budgetary concerns with no relation to the actual percentage of the population, arguably as much as 30%. Nevertheless, each of the larger minority neurological subgroups has its own Achille’s heel with which the neurotypical community targets and marginalizes us.

People with reading disabilities are targeted for their reading speed, their lack of fluency, their spelling. With labels including Dyslexia or SLD, many individuals from this category spend their lives terrified a neurotypical will discover their reading challenges and use them as leverage for dominance.

Furthermore, people from the ADHD community are frequently targeted for their disorganization and struggles with time management. Many people in this group are charismatic and highly articulate and can pass fairly unnoticed until landing in the hyper-competition of the professional context. Many high-potential people have abandoned working in any “professional” field to avoid the constant humiliation of being reminded about their punctuality or their organization.

People within the ASD community, however, are the most likely to be targeted. When you struggle with social pragmatics or processing speed, you’re at the mercy of every fool with even a minimal level of social status. Many autie folks, often possessing superior IQ and educational attainment have given up on holding a job — and not because they can’t do the work. They refuse to endure the constant humiliation and discrimination from the neurotypical culture.

Divergents Magazine creates a community of support for divergent families.
 Divergents Staff
Divergents Magazine  
©Divergents Publishing LTD  

Editorial Staff

Alethia Smith - Lifestyle Editor
Ben Mitchell - Publisher - Ben.Mitchell@divergents-magazine.org
Deborahanne Mayer -  Copy Editor and Contributing Writer
Leon Rice - Civil Rights Editor - Leon@divergents-magazine.org


Divergents Publishing: Editorial Board - If you are interested in joining the board, please contact us.

Alethia Smith - Lifestyle Editor
A native of St. Louis, Alethia holds an Associate degree in art, a Bachelor of Arts in human services, and a Master of Arts in teaching. As well as being an Accredited event designer. Alethia worked as a residential assistant in college, where she was responsible for coordinating multiple events for hundreds of students. This is where she developed a true love for event planning. After college, she led a number of independent partnerships, focused on developing and managing promotion events. She is known for engaging her talents and ideas in fun, exciting, and unconventional ways.
It's the most minute details that make an event successful, and Alethia is the master of the little things. She has the ability to transform and perfect your vision and impeccably execute the detail to create an amazing event. With over a decade of experience planning galas, fundraisers, weddings, and festive events of all kinds, Alethia understands how to fit everything together to create a flawless and remarkable event.

Ben Mitchell, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief 
With an MFA in Poetry from Goddard College, Ben Mitchell has published poems in more than fifty literary magazines all over the US, Canada, and the UK. Mitchell’s first book of poems, Only the Sound Itself, was published by Codhill Press in 2010. In 2012, Mitchell was one of four poets invited to read his work at the first poetry reading of Parabola magazine. Mitchell is currently completing a book called The Bigotry of Normal, reflecting on thirty years working in the field of special education as an individual diagnosed with Dyslexia and ADHD. He started Divergents magazine as a natural result of the themes in his book: all voices deserve to be heard.

Deborahanne Mayer - CFO 
Deborahanne grew up in Medford, Mass to an Italian American, Irish and Syrian family. She excelled in long distance running and was a standout as a high school athlete. She practiced ballet, tap and jazz from age 5 and carried these talents into college, though ultimately deciding upon a career in the legal field. The first in her family to receive a college degree, upon graduation, she moved to South Boston, worked for a Boston law firm during the day and moonlighting as a jazz dancer for a club in Cambridge. Ultimately, hearing her biological clock ticking, she made a decision to have children and dedicated her life to raising them. Now that the chickens have fled the coop, Deborahanne now splits her time between being a legal eagle, rowing on her Concept 2, practice target shooting and singing in her band, Debbie and the Downers.

Leon Rice, Civil Rights Editor 
Leon was born into the Civil Rights movement: in the 1960’s, his grandfather had to move his family and career from Natchez, Mississippi to Chicago, Illinois. As a prominent member of the NAACP, he found himself next on the KKK hit-list, just after Medgar Evers. This has formed the foundation for everything that came after. Leon graduated from Landmark College as a member of Phi Theta Kappa. During his time at Landmark, he served as the VP of the campus chapter of Phi Theta Kappa and the first black male Residence Advisor. Over the years, he’s been a basketball coach, an educator, an entrepreneur, and most notably, a writer and a photographer.


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