Written by Alexis Barton
Let’s talk about what happened, or rather what has been happening to people of color in our country for decades. For eight minutes and forty-seven seconds, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck in response to a possible forgery-in-progress. Floyd was accused of using a fake $20 bill. In response, Chauvin stopped the blood from reaching his heart and oxygen from reaching his brain while 3 of his colleagues watched.
This is the reality that people of color face in our country. I pose this question: if we are a nation that upholds human rights and equality, then why is it that we see cases like George Floyd, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, and countless more without any systematic changes to our judicial system? How many more black men and women have to die before we realize this is an issue? Enough is enough.
Instead of using this platform to air out my own frustrations, I want to highlight the experiences of just a few people of color who have been incredibly influential in my life.
Ava Brown is a rising high school senior from California, MD. In her life, Ava says that she has not been exposed directly to police brutality, but she is no stranger to being a part of a small group of minority students in her predominantly white high school. “I see very little representation of my heritage and background in school. Things get very awkward when topics like the Black Lives Matter movement come up… For example, during my freshman year, I took U.S. History, and obviously, we had to cover slavery. When we started to talk about it, everyone, and I mean everyone, looked at me and the one other black kid in my class. People are curious about my opinion which is fair because they want to understand what I think, but they should already know what I think about slavery.” Outside of the classroom, Ava is very involved in her choir program at school, where she represents one of four people of color in her chamber choir. Beyond high school, Ava has aspirations to become a music teacher, and she is already on a path to success due to her time with the Teacher Academy of Maryland (TAM) at the tech center tied to her high school. Ava’s decision to teach children is driven by her passion for music but is further driven by the lack of exposure she had to minority teachers. Brown says, “I was in 8th grade when I had my first black teacher. For the previous years, all my teachers were basically all white women. I haven’t had a black teacher since.” Ava’s experience interning with the TAM program has solidified her desire to become a teacher, saying, “I want to become a teacher so that all the little boys and girls that look like me can see someone that they can relate to. I did an internship at an elementary school and there was a strings class where a mixed-race girl and white girl were practicing a song when the white girl said, ‘Look, Ms. Brown has the same hair as you!’… I knew that by interning with grades 3-5 and sometimes going to 1st grade, I was exposing kids to a black teacher at the young ages of 7-10.”
The second person I would like to highlight is Kenny Faison. He is originally from Suffolk, VA but has spent his recent years in Southern Maryland. He currently works in Historic St. Mary’s City as a part of their living history museum. As he steadily pursues his aspirations of becoming an actor, Faison says that race plays a role even on the stages where he calls home.“…A lot of times in theatre I have found that when I do an audition for a musical I could audition with a song in the style of the show that was originally done by a non-POC, but then get asked if I have anything in my repertoire that was done by a black person. So far in my field, I have found that I have gotten the funny side character or the friend who has to be sassy at times because that is the box I get put in.” Faison is not new to his race having deep implications in other areas of his life. In high school, after moving from one of Virginia’s largest cities to rural St. Mary’s County, Faison says that it was a big adjustment, and the night before his freshman year, his parents had an important conversation with him. His parents told him that it wasn’t unlikely that he would be treated differently than his white peers; this had an indelible impact on Kenny. “The reason that conversation was so important was that it gave me a fire to then prove all these stereotypes wrong about me. My story is not sad or tragic, but hopeful.”
Lastly, Olivia Kitt. If you are a current Roanoke College student or a recent graduate, odds are you know Olivia in some form or fashion. She is a former Maroon Ambassador, former SGA President, and recently graduated with the Class of 2020. A native of Roanoke, Olivia made an incredible impact quickly into her career at RC. “When I ran for SGA President it was about creating an organization that represented the student body it was associated with. I believe that every person deserves a right to sit at the table and if the privileges I have been given can help me get others to the table, then I will work hard to see it through.” Her path to this position, however, was not smooth sailing. As she describes, Olivia faced people in the Salem and RC communities that may have had some predispositions regarding her race. “I had a woman ask me if I was a first-generation college student three months into my term as SGA President. What she did not do was ask my white counterpart, who was standing right beside me, the same question.” As she continues to be a voice, both, for her community at home and at RC, Olivia leaves us with one final message: “Remember that you have a voice that can lead to change. Being a part of the Black Lives Matter movement does not mean you have to physically be at every march or protest, but it does require you to be informed. Make sure that you are reading books, listening to podcasts, watching movies, and donating to organizations fighting for racial justice.”
I grew up in the same community as Ava and Kenny. Though I went to church in a diverse part of our county, I spent my entire K-12 career in schools that were predominantly white. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend St. Mary’s County’s Black Lives Matter protest in response to the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. What I took away, and hope everyone can take away, is the importance of listening and showing compassion. My skin color is a privilege, and it’s time that I take a back seat so I can fully understand the struggles that the black community and other people of color have faced in this country. We cannot make progress in this country until we can ensure true equality for all Americans. To the black community, I see you, I hear you, and I choose to stand with you. Black lives matter.