Updated: Sep 10
When you think about systemic racism, what do you picture?
A professional behind the desk making 30% less than their white counterparts, or maybe a small child waiting for his friends to come to his birthday party - but no one arrives because of the color of his skin OR do you pause and think about the millions of students that come into contact with teachers, administrators, and classmates that either create obstacles for students of color or refuse to clear obstacles for students by making it hard for them to gain access to the resources, programs and mentors that can change their lives? (I know...I know... it's a run-on sentence... - but you get my point)
During Summer 2020, many teens from around the globe felt that the "grown ups" and "adults" simply forgot we existed and had feelings, and although workforce equality was a top focus, teens in high school weren't. I remember at our DPW June 2020 Young Leadership meetup, several team members approached organizations and independent school districts asking for support and reassurance - just to be turned away. Many of us came back to the drawing table scratching our heads in disbelief that no one wanted to have the conversation with us...I remember one of our mentors on a call asking us "If someone that COULD help you happened to be listening, WHAT WOULD YOU WANT TO SAY TO THEM?", and our team member Jasmine didn't hesitate to say:
You get so wrapped up in planting the seed - that you forget to water us so we can grow!
You could hear a pin drop!
Yes, so many of us are also processing the pain and confusion to the hundredth-power because we don't have voting power, and let's be honest - we don't even have buying power, we're somewhat helpless and unhelpful to move the needle...maybe that's why we're overlooked....but we can only offer one thing THE POWER OF INFLUENCE and TECHNOLOGY!
Did you know that on an average it took 2.5 days for teen organizers to bypass many organizations and connect directly with peaceful protest organizers? Did you know the protests that allowed teens to have voices in leadership were 3x more well attended, and continue to have touch points with attendees? While many Americans marched in solidarity to support #BlackLivesMatter #BLM and other movements that specifically called out systemic racism in the United States, teens were moving forward with their own platforms. Bloggers, Influencers, IG models, Podcasters, YouTubers, Actors, Tik-Tok talent all coming together with a BIG ASK of their audience "If you're a fan, than follow us" in efforts to raise awareness and breakdown the obstacles standing in the way of equality for all!
Millions of recordings, stories, and first person encounters were being aired out about almost every single city in the United States of the lack of equality it offered people of color. Teens (like myself) were appalled by the accusations, disgusted by the leaked footage of people we should be looking up to that slipped up by showing up a flicker of racist comments and actions. We realized overnight that people of color were treated like disposable commodities.
I recall brave students like Najha Marshall and Tajaun Burtan stepping outside of their comfort zone and creating their own series of talks with DPW which attracted hundreds of viewers in addition to providing thought provoking conversation cards highlighting diversity, inclusion and equity exercises for attendees. The 6 part series of "Black Teens in America" was hosted by DPW Ambassador Karuna Pai Thomas that framed the weekly productive discussions.
Najha and Tajaun were eloquent, real and raw about the experiences ranging from hyper focus to zero focus between students and staff interacting with Black teens. There was no sugarcoating the experiences, and in many of the talks - you could see the silent nodding of heads as teens explained the injustices they faced in their schools through out the nation.
Some of the gripping stories from other teens during the sessions helped us realize that our incidents and feelings weren't isolated - we either personally experienced it, or knew someone first hand that went through it...here are some of the quotes from participants. So what is your #CallToAction dear reader? I, we, us all urge you to keep in mind that these feelings and feedback are not isolated, these comments were shared from across the nation - if you're interacting with Black teens, please take a moment to reflect and implement practices and safety measures to protect, advocate and ensure that Black teens are treated and represented fairly. We urge you to read all the comments below to understand how THOUSANDS of Black teens feel across the nation and the systemic racism in schools.
We all watched in fear when we realized that all our lives we felt like we were worthless, but indeed we were being groomed to accept that our lives are actually worth less. - Senior in College
We have been conditioned to think that our intellect, our ambitions, our contributions are worth far less than our white counterparts. - Senior in College
There are generations, upon generations of people that have just come to accept "this is the way it is" - but there is also THIS GENERATION that refuses to be pinned as worthless or worth less...we're not holding back - we're demanding equality for all people. - Senior in College
I would get in trouble for the same thing my friends would do, the only difference was that I'm Black... - Freshman in High School
I would get dress-coded constantly, but the other girls wouldn't...we wore the same size, but the difference between them and me is that I'm Black... - Sophomore in High School
I've always been in Honors classes, and my teachers would parade me around and use me as the poster child for great Black parenting - I was too embarrassed to tell them that I didn't live with my parents... - Senior in High School
My teachers were always surprised on the first day of school because of my name, and even commented that I don't sound like I would be Black... - Freshman in High School
My teacher made comments about Black poverty, and she had no idea I was 1/2 Black. - Senior in High School
90% of everyone in the gifted program was white in my school, and my grades were better than most of them! It wasn't until I got accepted on a full ride scholarship for my academics that I realized how racist the process was to put a student in that program. - Senior in College
My teachers were more flexible with white students than Black athletes. Everyone knew it, we just accepted it.... - Junior in High School
The PTA moms would treat us like we were invisible, unless we were athletes. - Junior in High School
It wasn't until he made the football team and became a breakout athlete when everyone finally started to notice us. We lived in the same neighborhood... - Junior in High School
My best friend in high school told me she never told her parents I was Black, and that I should wait outside while she told them...because they might get upset... - Junior in High School
She said I wasn't like the other Black girls. Later I found out, she was only my friend because she made fun of Black girls behind my back.... - Junior in High School
I was placed in detention for talking back to a teacher, but I was really just asking why we didn't have a Black History Assembly like at the school my mom teaches at. - Sophomore in High School
My teacher told us in class that all Africans were slaves, when I tried to correct her - she wrote me up and she started ignoring me in class. I barely passed her class... - Sophomore in High School
My Academic Counselor in high school would spend 5 minutes with me, but the white students would spend more time and knew when SAT prep, SAT practice exams, special after-school workshops for college scholarship writing were. My non-Black friends would tell us and we would sign-up that way. - Senior in High School
I was told my natural hair was kinky and I should straighten it when I go to college tours. - Senior in High School
I was volunteering with my team and another volunteer from another group told me I couldn't be in the volunteer area. I had on my team badge, ID and team shirt. He acted like I stole the shirt and ID badges. My team had to take up for me because he wouldn't listen to me. I was embarrassed and now I get nervous being around white people I don't know... - Junior in High School
I always was put in the back of the class, even though I have a hearing aid and a letter that states I should always be seated in the front. - Senior in College
The refs would come down hard on me instead of the white players on the team. - Freshman in College
On college day, there were no HBCUs! I asked why not and never got an answer! - Freshman in College
During a class project I posted a picture of a mansion and a boat. My teacher asked me if I wanted to be a rapper, an athlete or a movie star....and then laughed at me... he didn't even give me a chance to tell him about the game app I've been working on.... - Senior in High School
I wasn't allowed to pick a Black inventor during invention week because my teacher said the person I picked was "better suited for Black History Month" - that NEVER made sense to me! - Junior in High School
I'm thankful for people that stand up for Black people. - Freshman in High School
Microagressions are not OKAY! - Senior in College
Hard to read isn't it? Well, it's time to step up and make sure Black teens are protected. We hope that if you have the power, resources and access to stop systemic racism - that you
put 100% effort to combat systemic racism because a whole generation is counting on you!