By Alison Kodjack
When Roger Severino tells his story, discrimination is at its heart.
“I did experience discrimination as a child. And that leaves a lasting impression,” he tells me.
Severino directs the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. When I meet with him at his office in the shadow of the Capitol, he talks about his childhood as the son of Colombian immigrants growing up in Los Angeles.
“I remember a white kid coming up, as I was in the pool, [who] said a racial epithet,” Severino recalls. “My response as a kid was — I was confused, in a way. Why would they say such a thing?”
Later, when he entered high school, Severino’s counselor tried to steer him to shop class and vocational training.
“And I said, ‘Well, don’t you offer honors classes?’ ” Severino says. “And the counselor, who was white, said, ‘Yeah, but you’ll have to take a test.’ “
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