My name is Grace Duah and I’m a senior and SGA President at West Springfield High School in Virginia and I am a member of our newly founded Black Student Union(BSU). Every year our school, with a predominantly white majority, has a MANDATORY Black History Month Assembly. And this may sound good, but it is generally a cookie cutter version of the reality, spreading an undertone of racism doesn’t exist and Black History started with slavery. Every year, black students at our school have sat in silence during this performance and taken ,with an air of denial and pain,the reality that we lack a voice in something that is supposed to be representative of us and our situation.
This year BSU decided to take a stand. We respectively asked to take the assembly from leadership and plan an event that would be truly representative of black people as well as an honest look into our reality. We planned for five months, even managing to get a former employee who marched alongside Dr. King in Selma to come talk about his experiences as a protestor during the civil rights movement. Finally we would have an assembly run by black people for black people that would not only help black students at our school, but promote diverse representation for all minorities in our school.
However, this past Tuesday, our sponsor was informed by another teacher that the school Administration had decided to make the assembly optional and there would be one performance instead of two. This seems small, however the assembly is in a week and to make this decision would alter the event entirely and would give us only a week to prepare despite us preparing this event for months. Along with that, this event has been required for years and years ,when it is finally in the hands of black students, it no longer is essential. Also if the teacher had not informed our sponsor the admin had no intention of informing us of anything, because apparently we are valued so little in the school they didn’t even bother telling us despite it being our program.
Lastly, when things are optional students will not come and everyone including administration knows this. Their intention was to sabotage this from the foundation. Wanting to go about this in as dignified way as possible, we contacted the administration hoping to set up a meeting and discuss their reasoning and how we can go about changing it.
However, the meeting only proved to solidify our suspicions. The administration, especially the principal, was very short with us continuously cutting us off and calling us “hostile”. When we even tried to express our reasoning behind wanting this assembly so badly because of past racial injustices done against us, we were told “it’s Virginia so we should be used to it”.They even went as far a saying they wouldn’t want to force students to sit through an event they cared nothing about and had “no educational value”. In the end we got a “sorry"and a “maybe a change would be done”.
So basically yeah you’re offended but this doesn’t matter anyways so we’ll just let this die.
Beyond just the damage this whole situation has had on the assembly and it’s potential success, the mental and emotional damage has been far worse. A lot of black students at West Springfield feel under valued and unappreciated. They feel looked down upon, that people expect them to be nothing more than negative stereotypes and they have no voice to say anything against it. Some are even verbally abused to the point where their own self image is being damaged. You hear of the protests and incidents happening in the world regarding racism, but in our very own school kids are forced to deal with little acts of discrimination that make them feel less of a person and in result these students sometimes lash out. Many a times I personally have cried myself to sleep replaying words spewed to me in the halls.
Despite being a predominantly white school, the N word is used often and in a derogatory manner to black students on a daily basis. At one point kids even tried to organize a “Gangsta Out” where they would all dress up as “ghetto” gang members to a basketball game. This assembly was our chance to show black people how we wanted to be seen. Not as “gangstas” or “ratchet” or whatever negative stereotype used to keep us down, but rather as beautiful intelligent people who have gone through things yet have overcome.
People who have a voice.
Yes many people think Black History Month is seperatist or a waste of time and regard the assembly in the same way, but what those people don’t understand is: Black History Month is about equality and unity. It’s about showing off the side of American History not seen in textbooks. In the same way Black Lives Matter is about lifting black people to be valued and respected in the same way as the white majority, Black History Month as well as this event was designed to do the same. At the end of the day Black History is American History and should be heard.
It’s hard when you walk through school and feel like an outsider due to the color of your skin , and then feel like a person. Its hard when you open history textbooks and the only black people you see are slaves or in pain, and then feel valued . Validating the black history month assembly doesnt merely validate one event but it validates an entire people who are made to believe they are not good enough with no voice otherwise. Its about educating the youth on issues that face our world today. Its not anti anyone, rather its pro equality. Showing you can be of a different race and still have the world at your finger tips, we were under the impression the school wanted that message heard, but we were proven wrong. Not only did they prove they regarded us as whiney thugs by calling us hostile for speaking our minds and our hearts; but going as far as saying this event is not educational, when not only does this event highlight an aspect of history but they force us to sit through 3-4 pep rallies a year. I know our school would love it, if we continued to be silent and let this injustice occur,but no more.
Enough is enough we are the next generation and we’re tired. Tired of working to find reasons to love ourselves in a sea of self-hate. Tired of working twice as hard to get half as much as our white peers. Tired of being told we are smart for a black girl or guy. Or that we talk like a white person. No more. Personally I am a proud young black woman, with melanin skin that reflects the sun and no longer will I sit aside as injustice is being made. I am writing this post on behalf of every black student in my school, as well as every black student who has been made to feel like their feelings are less important. That their history is not valid. That they are not intelligent people destined for greatness. We plan on doing whatever it takes to get this decision repealed and discrimination and unfairness in our school exposed. West Springfield expected silence when they made this decision, but it is the age of the black revolution and they will learn it whether they like it or not: no JUSTICE no PEACE! We are black kids and we will not be silenced✊🏿✊🏾✊🏽