One GHS Senior’s Reflections on Black History Month

The following speech was delivered by Alleyha Dannett, a member of Greenwich High School class of ’14 to the a gathering of government.

In 1999, Will Smith, comedian, actor, and musical artist, had a song called Afro-Angel. In this song, he says, “Here I stand before you – brown. Color of the mountains Colossal as the earth Wrapped so deliciously within my own joy and misery Feathers of my wings paralyzed by the distance of my mind Here I stand before you, the color of the night Frozen by the potential of me.”

Hello all, for those of you who do not know me, my name is Alleyha Dannett, and I am a Senior here. I’ve lived in Greenwich, for about 8 years. In those eight years, I have been stereotyped, racially profiled, and very blatantly judged because of the color of my skin. I personally find it rather amusing, the idea that racism has gone away. In a predominantly Caucasian town, it can be rather difficult be a Black person to be honest.

I have the honor of being followed or watched a little more carefully when I walk into a store on Greenwich Avenue, sure that I’m going to stuff my pockets with dresses and run, I receive the pleasure of having people  sometimes cross the street or pull their children and pets just a little closer as I walk, and I don’t mean it in the manner of pardoning.

No, no. I get assumptions that I am going to be the first in my family to attend a four year college, which I am and proudly in fact, though no one has the right to assume, growing up I was asked all sorts of fun questions about guns and violence, questions about “the hood” or certain people calling me “Shaniqua”, lasted into Middle School .

Even now, attending a school, that is only four percent Black, can sometimes create a sense of pressure, to be frank.

How am I supposed to react when someone in one of my classes says the N Word? Am I supposed to call them out and make it awkward? Or am I supposed to laugh along and pretend I’m positively fine with it? (Which by no means am I)

How does one deal with the awkward tension, that has a near animus taint in the air?

Over the Summer I found a book in my house. I always knew the book was there, but I hadn’t had a keen sense if interest, until  this Summer. The book is called, “Growing Up Black” an absolutely phenomenal piece of literature, I highly suggest it to anyone and everyone. In the book, as pretty self explanatory. It is the story of approximately 22 black poets, journalists, civil rights activists, abolitionists, and so on, telling their stories of what it was like, growing up Black. Some of the stories made me laugh, some brought me to tears, but as I read, I felt a greater sense of appreciation for being Black, and everything that my people have fought through and for.

And truthfully, we all should.

Can I have a quick show of hands for everyone who already knew either before me saying it right now, or before February, that this month is Black History Month?

Yay!! Black History Month!!

Last year I single-handedly painted a banner (another which I am putting up post-meeting) that said happy black history month, and hung it for the rest of the school year, a little reminder couldn’t hurt, particularly when the school was doing nothing else to celebrate.

One day, as I sat with a few of my friends, one of them looked up at the banner, of course not knowing that it was I that made and hung the banner, and he said “Black History Month?? When was that? That’s not fair! How come you get a Black History Month, and there’s no White History Month?? That’s so unfair, we should get a White History Month. White People are pretty great and have done a lot of good things for this country too.”

The funny thing is, I wasn’t that shocked, I’ve heard the argument many, many, times. And I’ll spare you from my rant of a response, but my main point of what I replied to my dear friend, was “what, exactly, do you call your average History Class then?” because you’re definitely not learning Black History, or Black Cultures unless it’s of course to mention the oppression.

And this is why Black History Month is of so much importance. February is filled with Valentines Day, the Super Bowl, the Olympics right now, as well as break (which just ended). Then you have History Classes in which, to be frank, you are learning white History, TV Shows, movies, commercials, ads, magazines, books even, featuring mostly people of Caucasian descent. Yet channels like BET, Black Entertainment Television, or JET magazine, or Ebony, come under fire for being, “racist” by not including White People, and there is firey talk about how if the tables were turned people would be in uproar. But think for a second, how often do you see the Representation of African-Americans, or other type of person of color? I can promise you it is less than white, by far.

Black History month is a time for us to truly embrace and admire the accomplishments of Black People in America, as well as around the world. For example, you can take the progress of trains to a Mr. Elijah McCoy, who invented the oil-dripping cup for trains, his work was so renowned, that many tried to copy his invention, but none succeeded, coining the term, “the real McCoy”. Or Lewis Latimer, who actually worked with both Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, and who individually created the Carbon filament for the light bulb, or George Washington Carver, who invented peanut butter as well as 400 other plant products. Madam CJ Walker, the first female African American Millionaire, you can owe those lovely hair products that you swear by to her. Or Garret Morgan, who invented both the Gas Mask as well as the Traffic Light. Otis Boykin, born in 1920, who invented over 28 Electronic Devices including the devices for guided missiles, IBM computers, and the pacemaker. Dr. Patricia E. Bath created a method of eye surgery that has allowed for many Blind people to see. Even Lonnie G. Johnson, who actually created the world-famous SuperSoaker Water Gun.

And these are only to name a few. America was literally built off of the enslavement and oppression of African-Americans, and has now thrived and prospered because of the accomplishments of those same people.

Langston Hughes once said, “It is the duty of the younger Negro artist . . . to change through the force of his art that old whispering ‘I want to be white,’ hidden in the aspirations of his people, to ‘Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro ? and beautiful!’.”  Thurgood Marshall was quoted saying, “A child born to a Black mother in a state like Mississippi… has exactly the same rights as a white baby born to the wealthiest person in the United States. It’s not true, but I challenge anyone to say it is not a goal worth working for.”

Although there are only eight days left of Black History Month, I hope that everyone here at least learned why it is so important and how it, along with the true accomplishments of Black Americans, has shaped and benefited our modern culture, and world.

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