In this period of unprecedented events, I know millions of kids who are ready to share their voices. Join me in listening and giving them a platform to speak.
As a mom of four, and the leader of a philanthropy whose mission is to create healthier school communities in partnership with our nation’s schools and our nation’s youth, I feel more strongly than ever that “the youth voice” is not being heard. Whether it be the unrest in our nation around race and inequality, the fear of living in a COVID-19 world, or the consequences of food insecurity, job losses or other vital topics of importance to them, young voices need to be heard.
At GENYOUth, we can’t do what we do without the student voice. We are privileged to support 38 million kids daily in 73,000 of our nation’s schools because our programs are created for and with KIDS. It’s their voice that curates, defines, and elevates the work we do. Our society will only grow stronger if we uplift, empower, and amplify the voices of this next generation. For the foreseeable future, I will turn over this platform on Medium to them, in addition to my Twitter and Instagram feeds. These students have asked one thing from all of us: LET US SPEAK! We should be honored to do so. I am now pleased to share Ayanna’s voice with you:
A black girl in the suburbs. “A black girl that is not supposed to be here” is how the white people see me. “A black girl who thinks she’s better than everyone” is how the black people see me. I’m not just the black girl. This black girl has a name; this black girl has feelings; this black girl is human like everyone else. My name is Ayanna. I am a 17-year-old black female who is currently being raised by my father, who works in casino management, and my mother, who is a lieutenant with the Philadelphia Police Department. But how can I tell the world who I am when the world is a constant reminder that being black is a crime? Years ago Emmett Till was beaten to death just for looking at a white woman. Months ago Breonna Taylor was shot by police as she slept in her bed. Weeks ago George Floyd was killed by police, and just days ago Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by police. How can I feel safe if the people who are supposed to protect us are the ones killing us? Now before you determine that I am bashing the police and that this is just another “all cops are bastards“ article, I share both sides of the spectrum.
I come from generations of law enforcement, including my grandfather and my mother. My mother has been an officer for over 17 years and it breaks her heart to see what’s going on in the world right now. While both of my parents have raised my siblings, and me, to believe that the world is full of goodness, recent events have proved that the world has a long way to go. Recently, you may have seen a lot of press around June 19th. This day is known to my family and countless other black families as Juneteenth. My family does not celebrate July 4th as Independence Day because we, as blacks, were not free on that day of “Independence” in 1776. Rather, we celebrate June 19, 1865, when those enslaved were liberated. But how far have we come? Just recently my parents were subjected to being chased by two white men in a truck blowing the confederate anthem behind them.
I’ve had no lower than a 3.8 GPA my entire high school career and have won multiple grants for my school district, but still I am invisible. Instead, the credit is given to one of my white schoolmates and they are honored for ideas that are mine. “Don’t allow anyone to define who you are,” my mother and father tell my siblings and me. When I told them that I was writing this article, they told me to be as raw and honest as possible despite my mother being in law enforcement. She said, “Truth is, when I take off my uniform, I’m just another black face. I harbor the same pain as every other black person and probably even more.”
Through all the madness, I can’t help but to be proud that my uncle, Dr. Marcus Anthony Hunter, who is the Scott Waugh Endowed Chair in the Division of Social Sciences, Professor of Sociology, and Chair of the Department of African American Studies at UCLA. He coined the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. My younger brother is nine years old. I’m explaining to him about George Floyd. When my sister was five, I was explaining Trayvon Martin. When I was 14, my parents were explaining Rodney King to me. When my parents were growing up, their parents were explaining Emmett Till. When will it stop? I always get asked, “How do you feel?” and my answer is “How would you feel if you were me?”
Ayanna is a rising senior from Pennsylvania who loves sports (especially basketball and football), and is involved with her school’s National Honor Society. Outside of school, Ayanna enjoys traveling, reading novels, dancing, and bowling. Ayanna aspires to be a medical anesthesiologist. She has won numerous grants and prizes to implement projects to support healthy lifestyles at her school, and continues to act as a youth advisor and remote role model for other student from home.