Where I'm Headed and Where I've Been

June 1, 2009
By Danielle Simms BRONZE, Mason, Ohio
Danielle Simms BRONZE, Mason, Ohio
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I owe a great deal to the racist friends and acquaintances that I’ve had: they have given me a purpose and a reason to try and achieve something great with my life. The lack of diversity at my school is what created this avenue for the knowledge I found in high school.
My school’s hallways are filled with a sea of white and little speckles of everything else. 2900 students with less than five-percent African-American has created an immense lack of awareness concerning minorities. I am the first black friend of most people I know, and it shows throughout daily conversation. I constantly hear statements ranging from “Can you sunburn?” to “I would be scared to be in a room full of black people.”

During Marching Band freshmen year, I started to notice how frequently my white-friends stereotyped the black people they saw. It also came to my attention that the n-word had no effect on my white-friends when they happened to use the word while telling a story. One of my hardest experiences was the day my white-best friend casually used the n-word after I had described to him the anger and isolation I felt when the word was used by anyone of any race. I have lost numerous friends due to similar statements, but I have gained a great and heavy understanding of racism. However, this perceptiveness took a toll.
The grief and great sadness that overtook me for a period of time freshmen year is hard to explain. There were days while sitting in my bedroom that I was overcome by lassitude and the homework that sat in front of me drifted to the back of my thoughts. In the words of Fredrick Douglas my friends “opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out.” I nearly left my high school in hopes of finding a niche in a healthier environment.
Finally, I had learned what it meant to be black in America.

Instead of leaving, however, I choose to stay and fight the ignorance that plagued my school’s hallways. My first battle would be Black History Month. Sophomore year I was asked to create an activity for Black History Month two months before it was to occur. I spent hours researching black authors, poets and speakers trying to find different discussion points that could be made in the classrooms in my school. After identifying prose and poetry excerpts, I created questions to go along with the pieces that were to be read throughout the month of February. When I was told that the English Department at my school agreed to use my packet, I was overcome with a feeling of accomplishment. That feeling dissolved after several students confirmed my suspicion that my efforts had largely been wasted. My own teacher did not bring up the packet.
However, I remained resolute. I quit band to join my school’s newspaper staff junior year, in order to address topics that would help improve race relations. I also created the basis for a group called Mason African-American Students for Change that put on my school’s first Black History Month Assembly and orchestrated a meeting where parents and the principal could discuss the fall out that occurred at my school during the 2008 elections. Throughout our monthly meetings, MAASC also discussed topics such as “Should the n-word be used?” and “Is rap music synonymous with black music, and does the music’s negativity also apply?” Even though the advertising for the club promoted the fact that any person was welcome, only one white person attended the meetings. Regardless of this fact, many of the conversations I participated in during the club were thought provoking and benefited many others at the school.

Though the majority of the people at my high school have not left me with positive memories, I am grateful for the awareness and intelligence they have helped to bring out in me. As I move on to college I realize that fighting ignorance and injustices is my calling, and I am ready to take it on.

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