On Wednesday, November 29th, more than 50 youth, young adults, adults and elders gathered to share and hear perspectives on racial justice. The intergenerational panel included Sub/Urban Justice youth leaders Emilia and Juliari, Community Change, Inc. executive director Shay, and Sub/Urban Justice college intern Damanpreet, facilitated by Mary and Mariko. They responded to questions about the role of different generations in racial justice work; about how gender and media impact experiences of racism; and shared personal stories about the state of racism in their schools and communities.
Boston Mobilization graduate intern Mouhamadou reflects on his experience:
Last week, I had the immense pleasure of attending Boston Mobilization’s Racial Justice panel. In collaboration with Community Change, Inc., the panel featured three teens, two young adults, and the director of Community Change Shay Stewart-Bouley. Saying that I loved this panel is an understatement. I was deeply moved by the stories every panelist shared about their own experiences with their identities as racial beings, working towards racial justice, and collaborating with people from different generations. These personal stories gave me a lot of meat to reflect on in relation to my own story of racial development, and how it informs the work I am doing at Sub/Urban Justice and beyond.
I would like to highlight the story that impacted me the most. It was Juliari’s story in elementary school, where she experienced institutionalized racism as a gifted female pupil of color. She shared about how, as a student, she was performing at a high level. She was naturally gifted and loved to learn. However, instead of rewarding her natural ability and passion about learning, her peers and teachers proceeded to harass her and her parents out of disbelief that a student of color could be that gifted. Her peers would accuse her of cheating, and her teachers would call her mother’s house, accusing her of doing her child’s homework. What was heartbreaking about this story was that this negative climate was detrimental to Juliari’s performance. Her performance began to significantly decline because her love of learning and sense of belonging was slashed by her racist peers and teachers. After particularly negative experiences at the predominately white and Asian exam school she attended for her first three years of high school, she ended up transferring to a more racially diverse school, still highly ranked in Boston, and seemed to be much happier there.
As she was talking, I began reflecting on my own schooling experience in Senegal, where I was born and raised until age 11. My elementary school experience was dramatically different, even though I, too, went to the best elementary school in my region. The overwhelming majority of my school was Black and, therefore, black achievement was not something exceptional at all. My demonstrated signs of giftedness and consistent trend of outperforming my peers led to admiration, praise, and support—not jealousy, hostility, and oppression. So then, I wonder: what are the odds that I would have had educational experiences similar to Juliari’s had I done elementary school in the US, knowing that the best schools are most likely to be predominantly white and upper-middle class? Would I have the same love of learning and sustained sense of accomplishment I have today, had I had Juliari’s same experience? Would I be as invested in the educational system if I had that kind of experience?
The panel raised these and many more questions for me. Personally, any event that triggers such deep reflection and the asking of so many good questions is a successful event. Therefore, the panel on racial justice was truly a treat and I hope to be able to attend similar events in the future. Story-sharing is incredibly powerful.