The Blake School Address: High School Senior Speech
To Whom It May Concern,
I was four years old when it happened. It was Black History Month. The month was filled with history lessons to teach children about inequality.
My daycare decided to put on a play about Rosa Parks in honor of it. Being one of the few Black girls, I was chosen to play the role of Rosa Parks. I refused to take the role because the idea of racial discrimination scared my four-year-old mind. I did not want to have to be the Black lady who was dragged off to jail because she refused to give up her seat to a white man. I did not want to have to be the one to stand up to all of the white people played by my peers. Why me? Was the only thing I could think of. I was only four years old, and I already felt like fighting against racial injustice was my burden to bear. I couldn't even spell ‘racial injustice’.
My mother and father didn't understand my resistance. I couldn't explain to them that I was not ready to deal with segregation and other issues of racial inequality. I simply did not have the vocabulary to articulate it to them. But nonetheless, they persisted. They enlisted my white stepmother on their team to help convince me that playing Rosa Parks was an honorable role. Because she was white, her appreciation for Rosa Parks meant more to me than my own parents. Because of her approval, I confidently played the role of the victimized Black woman later that February.
The sad thing is that over a decade after the play has ended, I have not stopped playing the role. In the play entitled Life, it is my permanent position. There are no curtains up or stage breaks. Simply a never-ending plot full of conflicts and confrontations, but strongly lacking resolutions.
I'm forced to have race as a part of my everyday life because of the dark tint of my brown skin. I cannot help the fact that many of you have used it to judge me, or to define me at one point or another, or that in many cases, I'm often pre-judged because of it. I can never stop being Black.
You may be thinking, ‘not another speech about race’ - this is. There are no other words I could say or other speeches I could give to make you understand who I am. I stand up here not to be judged, ostracized, or denied, but to be listened to, finally. Within the walls of our Blake School, I have walked down loud, busy hallways, alone. I sat friend-less in classrooms full of my peers. I spoke to a room full of people who refused to hear my words. I stood tall despite the fact that many people refused to see me.
When I look into the eyes of other students of color, it is clear to me that they can empathize with these feelings, as well. What have we done to deserve this? Think back to the moans you hear when books by authors of color are introduced into the curriculum, and the complaints about how this is an example of diversity being shoved down our throats. Many of us have never challenged these remarks despite the fact that the majority of the curriculum is about white males. I'm guilty because I haven't. I have never challenged these remarks because I am too busy wondering if my presence as a student of color at this school is diversity being shoved down your throats. "Well, why don't you just leave then?" That's what he said to me. That's when I stood there unarmed, weak, and confused. What was I supposed to say?
I couldn't muster up the words to say that I wish it were that easy. I wish I could close my eyes, pack my bags, and disappear from this place. But how different would things be when I opened my eyes? Would the world suddenly become a different place? Would my life have been any different if I had never come to Blake? The answer is no. The truth is that issues surrounding race go far beyond the walls of this school and the years of my existence. If I could give this speech to you a million times a day, I would. I would tell you the same story over and over again until you could understand that race is important to me because many of you have played a role in defining it. My experiences dealing with race at Blake have contributed to the development of my racial identity. I will keep telling you this until you can truly understand how one's ignorance can obliterate a being into nothingness.
I don't know how much other students of color or I can do. You've heard our words from this stage. I've shed it all. Tears, family, pride, and friends. So if you still find this conversation uncomfortable or unnecessary, I ask you, what have you done to reduce the need for it? Have you ever spoken up when a racist remark was said in class? Or have you ever looked for answers within yourself before looking towards students of color when issues of diversity are brought up? It is up to you to acknowledge my struggle and the struggle of other students of color in our community. Even if the issues surrounding race go far beyond us, we must start somewhere. I did not think that fighting against racial injustice was my burden to bear because it's all of ours.
In the words of Margaret Mead, "A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
So, what's your next move?