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. Women that I have long admired, and who lead by example, like Christine Golic, are joining me to amplify our student voices. These students have asked one thing from all of us: LET US SPEAK! We are honored to do so. I am now pleased to share Destinee’s voice with you:
Growing up, none of the Disney princesses looked like me. I walked into classrooms and none of my friends looked like me either. There were times where all I could wonder was why I was so different. I didn’t understand why I was the one at recess that couldn’t have her hair braided because of the unique, ethnic texture. I didn’t understand why my friends could all look like Sleeping Beauty, but I didn’t resemble her at all. Although these thoughts crossed my mind, I was still too young to notice other people’s behaviors until I started to get older. This being said, being the brown girl in a predominantly white community has definitely been a unique experience, to say the least.
In light of recent events, I can not come near saying that I have ever personally experienced anything as disgusting as what happened with George Floyd. Seeing the video put an immense, undeniable feeling of fear deep in my heart. Not only for George Floyd, but for my father, uncle, brothers, and every black man living in America. Although the fear is still overheating, when I initially heard the story, I wasn’t surprised. We knew black people were targeted by police but some individuals were still in denial. But now, we have a visual. It is an undeniable example of systemic racism in law enforcement. The uproar after George Floyd’s death has been very apparent in the media and has truly brought me to reflect on my own experiences in my own community. One of the first things that I thought was that I truly don’t believe that most members of my community are racists. I feel that ‘racist’ is such a strong word and truly believe that in a person’s heart, they are not racist or hateful, they were simply misled at some point in their life. We are not born with prejudice. Racism is not inherent. Children see children, but when we get older, we are taught to see color. Therefore, I began to think, because racism is a taught problem, it can be ‘untaught’ and a solution can be reached.
Schools have the perfect opportunity to bring awareness to the injustice in our society and give students positive Black role models consistently throughout their education. Why aren’t we discussing racism in our schools? Because it’s not on that ACT? Our education system needs a drastic update, as it is essential to give all students enough information so they don’t live in denial and can choose a course of action.
Although I don’t think that most people in my community are truly racist, my family and I have still gone through experiences in which we were profiled simply due to the color of our skin. When reflecting upon a story to share, I spoke to my Uncle Juan, a dark-skinned man, and he told me a shocking story that is a perfect example of nonviolent systemic racism. A few years ago, when filling out the form to get his driver’s license at the DMV, he checked Hispanic. After all, he is a Spanish speaking man from the Dominican Republic. However, when he went to the counter, the man looked over his form and told him he needed to change his race to black. My uncle then tried to convince him that he was in fact Hispanic and the Dominican Republic is a Spanish speaking island in Latin America. My uncle didn’t understand why this was an issue with the DMV employee. “I identify as a person,” he told me, so why is it that the DMV worker failed to notice his joyful personality and instead, simply saw his race first? The DMV employee explained that when the police were looking for him, they would need to look for a black man, not a Mexican. Not only did they blatantly tell him to change his race based on the tone of his skin, but they assumed that at some point in his life, law enforcement would be looking for him. To this day, his driver’s license still says that his race is in fact, black. I highly doubt that a white person would have to go through the same experience. No one assumes that police would be after a white person without reasonable suspicion. Hearing this story makes me feel like I will always be looked at differently at government agencies.
This is absolutely unacceptable. Racism at any level is an atrocity to society. Even though you don’t see stories like these on the news, experiences like my Uncle Juan’s are happening every day to black people around the nation. So how do we change? In order for citizens to enact change, we all need to educate ourselves and use our right to vote. Education is crucial in this process because you simply cannot be blind to the blatant racism happening. You need to reach out and make the effort to learn about stories. Learn about black people’s experiences enough so that you are able to step back and acknowledge not only the large scale issues in this country but also any white privilege you may have. Being an ally and standing as a true anti-racist is crucial in a time like this, as it is simply not enough to be a silent non-racist person anymore.
Our right to vote is also an extremely helpful tool. When voting, you need to take the initiative to look for people who make it a point to be anti-racist at every level. It’s not enough to elect people who simply say that they are not racist. We need to find people who will put in the work to sincerely make a lasting change in our society. People in power need to be able to represent everyone, even the little brown Neenah, Wisconsin.
Destinee is an incoming high school junior and honors student from Wisconsin, who loves to try new things and get involved with her community. In her free time, she loves to participate in musical theater, swim team, show choir, and dance. As a passionate musician and public speaker, she hopes to work in communications when she grows up. Destinee has been offered many amazing opportunities that have helped her grow as a leader and make her school a more active place. “Now, my hope is to make my community a more accepting place.”