As previewed here last night, students were joined by VIP visitors for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day assembly today at West Seattle High School. Teacher Jennifer Hall, who advises the WSHS Diversity Club, shared some visuals, and the full text of senior Amy Ijeoma‘s speech from the assembly, titled “The Only Black Kid”:
Individuality is amazing. It’s something we value because it offers more perspectives, more conversation, more ideas. It does a lot of good. But we also like to be relatable – we find comfort in knowing that others go through or have gone through similar situations, think similarly, and that others share common characteristics and interests. That’s how we make friends. We find people who are in some way similar to us, and we find people who are almost nothing like us. But that’s how we bring out the best in each other. With the right balance of individuality and relatability, we can collectively grow in how we view each other’s unique experiences.
So our schools and classrooms reflect that, right? We’re working towards it, but there’s room for improvement. In recent Harvard studies they show that students of color perform better academically and engage more in classes where they have race congruent teachers. And white students perform just as well. From my own experiences, I’ve felt more comfortable in a class where there’s a teacher who I see myself in. Whether it was a teacher of color, a woman, or someone who has lived a shared experience. And I quickly learned that at a young age.
In my early years of elementary school, I began to feel the disconnect. I knew the majority of the other kids didn’t have a similar upbringing as me, that they didn’t like how I looked because they didn’t understand it, but I knew so much about their European roots. I learned so much eurocentric history that I knew it like it was my own. At times I would try to feel like them. I remember one day I tried pinching my nose, so it would stay narrow the way their noses do. By 4th grade, I was straightening my hair every morning before school. I tried to adapt to white culture, while forgetting how beautiful my own culture was. Imagine a little brown girl intimidated by her own skin tone, because she never saw or heard about enough of it. Anywhere, in school, on tv, in children’s books, on barbie dolls. It was a strange feeling, but that was only the beginning.
When my culture and many other cultures were finally being introduced in classrooms, (and still to this day) everyone would turn and look at me. It was sad to know that people of color’s histories, their oppression, and their contributions to society were talked about so little –it seemed almost forbidden; as if their history didn’t encompass mass incarceration, genocide, systemic racism — the silencing of my people, other people of color, and many other marginalized groups. Just because you’re uncomfortable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it. It’s not something people of color should just “get over and move on” from, because it happened, and it’s still happening. So what do we do?
As members of society, we need to respectfully acknowledge history and current events when they come up. We must create an environment that allows people of color to freely speak their minds, and truly be heard; to educate and be educated. We need to display our true personalities, because not only will you benefit from it, but the people around you can see themselves in you as well, and feel more comfortable being who they are. Respectfully include and welcome valid perspectives that aren’t your own! Debate. Learn. Remember that if you’re one who benefits from the oppression of others to listen. Although your opinion matters, if you ever want to learn, you have to listen. Because people of color just want to be noticed and heard for who they truly are, and how they feel. So when Monday comes around, and you remember one of the many people who fought for justice, remember that the fight isn’t over.
Last February, Amy Ijeoma was one of the WSHS students we featured because of their project related to family homelessness.
Also at the assembly, as previewed last night, three state legislators who worked together on the creation of MLK Day in our state reunited for the first time in decades – former 34th District Reps. Georgette Valle and Bruce Addison, and former 43rd District Rep. Jesse Wineberry. Teacher Hall shares this three-minute clip from their Q/A session after the speech:
The bill they co-sponsored, creating the state holiday, passed in 1985.