How Growing Up With Racial Intolerance Shaped The Way I See The World
Welcome to my story.
I am a modern day Ruby Bridges. At a young age, I moved into a society that, at times, made me feel uncomfortable. But I would not change my circumstances, even if I were given the option.
Although it wasn’t explicitly communicated to me, my Guyanese mother and Jamaican father uprooted the family from our home in the Bronx to the suburbs of Chappaqua, so I could receive a better education and more opportunities.
If you flip open my high school yearbook, you’ll notice something that stands out even more than my classmates' brightest smiles.
With decades between us, I walk down a path similar to the one Ruby Bridges walked, as the first African-American child to enter a white school in New Orleans.
Like her, I was one of the only five African-American children in my school district, and the only African-American in my grade.
The first time I realized I was “different,” I was in first grade.
This was during art class, and my classmates and I were learning about self-portraits in the 19th century.
Our task was to mimic, to the best of our ability, the self-portrait of the artist Frida Kahlo.
My art teacher placed a pack of 12 watercolors in front of each student.
Many of my friends decided to keep their faces untouched and use the white background of the paper to represent their skin color.
I, however, firmly dipped my paintbrush in brown paint, and started to softly brush the skin color on the paper.
I felt proud knowing my piece of paper was different from my classmates'.
This pride came with the satisfaction that my painting had a sense of originality and differentiation.
I learned my skin color was not going the same as my classmates', and I had to remember to be brave enough to embrace that fact, and be myself.
There were many instances in which I grew to have thick skin.
During the moments of awkward stares between my classmates, when we were learning about the Civil War and slavery, I had to sit a little taller.
And I remember the moment the class bully asked me if I tasted like chocolate, and if my skin color was a Halloween costume.
Although these occurrences made me feel very uncomfortable, and the words of my classmates pinned through my skin into my veins, I was able to mature due to these situations.
I understood early on that in life, people are always going to question you. You have to be strong and sure of yourself and in your own beliefs.
Keeping in mind my sister and I were in a society that, at times, made us feel different, my mother always tried to put things in perspective for us.
She took it upon herself to enroll my sister and I into dance classes at The Harlem School of Arts. This brightened my understanding that the world was not simply black or white.
In those classes, I was not questioned about my skin color.
Instead, I was dancing among students who came from all different backgrounds. All that mattered in our classes was who was the best at doing fifth position.
My mom would also read my sister and I inspiring quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Magic Johnson and other notable African-American figures.
One quote that has stuck with me since childhood is by Magic Johnson:
You’re the only one who can make a difference. Whatever your dream is, go for it.
This quote meant (to me) that anyone, regardless of his or her background, can change the world if he or she dares to try.
The strength and will to be victorious is colorblind.
This is exactly why my mother stressed on the importance of an education.
When I arrived at the University of Delaware, I did not know what to expect.
I was excited to be in a new environment and explore new things, but I was even more excited to meet new people and create everlasting friendships.
Realizing I wasn’t the only African-American student came as a shock to me.
I was meeting people of all different ethnicities and backgrounds, and I could not be happier.
I felt a sense of community when I walked into the Center of Black Culture. The CBC was the place where African-American students could meet, organize events and develop a community of support.
I often went there to hang out after classes, and deemed the center a home away from home.
At the University of Delaware, I was beginning to learn about my culture. I was discovering, for myself, why it was so important to be an educated African-American.
Due to the recent killings in Ferguson, coming to the University of Delaware made me so proud, and changed my life.
I am seeing the brutality and injustice that African-Americans face around the country, and reading and learning about similar experiences throughout history is something I highly value.
This gives me the hope to bring Magic Johnson’s quote to life.
I want to be the one to make a difference by educating my peers on the importance of African-American history.
The sad truth is, there is a possibility of Black History Month becoming irrelevant to our tech-savvy, selfie-loving generation.
In a time where we have stopped passing down stories of the past, it is important for people to remember the struggle African-Americans are still fighting.
We are living in a time where these important issues are not being highlighted, and history is not being acknowledged. This is a crime within itself.
African-Americans have long been denied their rightful place in history, and it is important for educators everywhere to reiterate the importance of this.
Black history is American history.
As I enter different stages of my life, I hope to travel with the stories, culture and teachings that enable me to flourish.
I will always remember that the opportunities I have been given are a result of the sacrifices of my ancestors.