Who are we? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? See, we all know who we want to be, who we aspire to be, we even know what we don’t want to be. Yet, it is so hard to answer the question of who you are. Do you state your name and age? Do you mention your interests and skills? Or, do you mention your race? If we are playing those rules, here’s what I am: Naya Jones, a 16-year-old girl. My interests range from reading, to watching documentaries of a diverse range of topics, and to debating. Oh, I forgot! My race: African American. My parents say that I used to argue and debate before I even knew words. It was my form of communication in baby language. Right now, I’m practicing this very skill with my brother Levi in the kitchen at 7:00 am… right before school.
“C’mon Naya, pleaseeeeeee…...?”
“Levi, I told you, no!”
“But, my teacher asked me to ask you!”
“Can’t they find someone else to do it?”
“No, I promised her you would do it.”
“Why would you do that, you dimwit? I don’t want to talk to a bunch of 3rd graders about racism!”
“Why not? You talked to me about it.”
“How is it different?”
“I don’t know! Leave me alone!”
And that was the moment my parents chose to walk in the kitchen. Mom’s “sibling-fight” detector was going off, and that’s why she decided to figure out what was going on.
“What is all the shouting about, kids? Shouldn’t you two be getting ready to leave?”
“Mom, it’s not me. Levi just keeps on annoying me.”
“Mom, I asked Naya for a favor and she won’t help me out.”
“Well, what did you ask her to do for you, honey?”
“Well, Ms. Laura said that because its Black History Month, she wants us to learn more about it. So, she asked me if Naya could come and talk to my class about racism. I said “yes”, but Naya doesn’t want to help me!”
“Naya, sweetie, what’s the issue with just dedicating a bit of your time to go and talk to Levi’s class?”
“Mom! They really want me to talk about racism? These kids don’t even care, I’ll be wasting my time.”
“I’m putting my mom coat on, smacking my gavel, and laying down the law as follows; Naya, you will be helping your brother out and talking to his class and Levi, hurry up and get done, you’re going to be late for school!”
And at the same time Levi yelled “YAY!”, I screamed “NO!” to the older sibling gods to help me. Unfortunately, no one came to help. So, that’s why I am currently sitting in a too small, uncomfortable wood chair, at the back of a colorful classroom, sweating profusely, waiting for Ms. Laura to call me up and talk. She greeted me at the door about 15 minutes ago and told me to go wait at the back while they finish with their math lesson. I was grateful that she didn’t just push me up front as soon as I walked in. I’m cherishing these precious minutes I have left before the torture. No one seems to understand my issue. They all think I am being unreasonable or throwing a teen tantrum. It’s not the case though. For years, we’ve had countless icons and leaders talk to us about racism and how we should treat everyone fairly and equally regardless of race, gender, and religion. Then why is there still so much racism and hatred in the world? Why, is it just a while ago we had to watch on the news the violence going on in Charlottesville? Where a young woman, protesting against the white-supremacists, lost her life in a senseless act? Where unarmed black men like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray are gunned down by police? Where immigrants are being verbally abused in streets, being told to go back from where they came from? Where there are threats at mosques and women in hijabs are scrutinized and judged? What’s the point in talking? Is talking to my brothers third grade class going to solve anything? I just don’t understand why nobody can see it from my point of view. I’m so tired of having to read story after story about blatant racism every day. I mean, I wrote notes down in case I froze up, like I’m doing now, but how am I supposed to go up there and educate these kids, when I’m confused myself. What do I say, what do-
I snapped out of my thoughts and looked up to see Ms. Laura staring at me.
“Sorry, Ms. Laura. I must have zoned out. What were you saying?”
“It’s okay sweetie. I just came back to tell you that the class is ready for you.”
“Oh, um, okay. So… I just go up front and talk, right?”
She laughed and said “Yes, that’s all you have to do. Although, I would like for you to include a Q&A at the end. You know, just to ensure the kids really understand and even for them to ask you what’s on their mind.”
So, without looking at anyone, especially Levi (considering he is the cause of this torture), I trudged up to the front of the classroom, took a deep breath and turned around to face the kids. Wow, there’s a lot of them. And by them, I mean kids. There were about 20 pair of eyes staring me down. Okay Naya, you can do this! You just have to read your notes! I mean, how hard can that be? I cleared my throat and began… “Hey everyone! My name is Naya Jones, I’m 16, and many of you already know but I’m Levi’s sister. Levi asked me to be here today to talk to you guys about racism. So, here I am…”
And so, I started, first by defining racism to them; “Racism is the belief by one color group of people that they are better and more special than other color skinned people. And, it is what that belief causes people to do. When people are racist they can be extremely rude, disrespectful, and hurtful.” Then I walked through my notes and picked my brain talking about: a brief history on slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, and his ‘I have a Dream’ speech, Brown vs. Board of Education, Rosa Parks, the Selma March, Voting Rights, and much more. I simplified all the points, making it easier for them to understand. I was about 30 minutes in, when I reached the end of my notes, and decided it would be a good cutting point.
“Well, that’s all I have for you guys today. I hope you enjoyed my talk, guys”.
Ms. Laura replied saying “Class, why don’t we give Naya a big round of applause for that great talk. Naya, if you don’t mind, could the class ask you some questions?”
Even though I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the idea, I agreed.
“Okay class, do we have any questions for Ms. Naya?”
A lot hands rose up at once. I picked the kid right in front of me. He was looking at me with a confused expression in his eyes and asked “Is it bad to see color?”
In turn, I looked at him with confused eyes and said “What? What do you mean “see color?”
“Well, when I asked my dad a question about racism, he said that we shouldn’t see color when talking about people. Do you agree?”
I was a bit taken aback by his question. I thought he might ask me something about what I talked about in the speech. So, I replied “What’s your name, buddy?”
“My name is Finn.”
“Well, Finn. I disagree with your dad.”
And, at this moment, I decided to pick my heart for this answer. “Well, because color is beautiful. For example, look at your classroom. You have those beautiful green trees painted at the back, with all your classmate’s names put up. On this wall by the right, you each chose your favorite hobby and drew a picture of it. All those art pieces and this classroom is beautiful because of those colors. Can you imagine how boring it would be if all the walls were just plain beige? These colors make our world gorgeous. The sky is blue, the grass is green, the sun; yellow. The rainbow is all different colors. And all of us, in this room are too. And that’s okay. It’s amazing actually. Whether the color is black, white, brown, blue, pink, or even purple; they are all beautiful in their own way and in their own right. You can’t draw a picture of the beautiful white moon without including the beautiful black night sky. There’s nothing wrong with seeing color Finn, but it’s we treat that color that matters.”
“What do you mean about how we treat it?”
“Who are your friends in this class, Finn?”
He pointed to an Asian boy in the back, who I learned was Harvey, a black boy in the desk next to him named Stephen, and a Mexican girl named Isabella.
“You like all your friends equally, right?”
“Of course, they are all my best friends.”
“See. You know you guys don’t all look the same, but it doesn’t matter. Because you treat all of them the same. You show all of them kindness, respect, and love. That’s what I meant when I said ‘there’s nothing wrong with seeing color, but it is how we treat color that matters’. You should respect everyone one for who they are. Even if you do not like someone, you should never be mean to them based on their skin color, culture, or religion. You guys understand now?”
They all replied with a loud “Yes!”
“Any other questions?”
I saw Levi’s hand go up and took pity on my brother, so I said “Yes, Levi. What is your question”.
And then my little, annoying brother melted my heart when he replied “I don’t have question. I just wanted to say great job on your speech and that I love you, sis.”
I looked at Levi and said “I love you too, Levi.”
And that was the end of the class. Everyone got up and was ready to leave. I was about to leave when Ms. Laura stopped me at the door and said “That was brilliant Naya. You might not think it, but you just inspired 20 kids. You should be proud of yourself, and again, thank you for today!”
“Thank you, Ms. Laura. I actually quite enjoyed that.”
And, in bed that night, I laid and thought about it. I am never going to be able to teach the whole world about racism and why it’s wrong. I am never going to change people and create world peace. But, if today, I just inspired 20 kids to live life respecting and loving any and every one regardless of the color of their skin. Then, maybe I am changing the world. Maybe not 7 billion people’s worlds, but 20 amazing kids who are going to be the future generation and who are going to be the example for the future. So, it was then and there, that I decided who I was. I was Naya Jones, a proud black girl, who is going to dedicate her life treating everyone with love, respect, and kindness, even if it is not being treated the same to me. I was Naya Jones, who was not afraid to talk about her emotions and opinions of topics. I was Naya Jones, who was going to continue fighting for my fellow humans who were being treated unjustly and unfairly. That is who I am, and that is who I am going to be; a strong, unashamed, loving, black girl. And, I’m proud of it, and I am proud of who I am.