What Black History Month means to me, a black person

Audrey Morris, Writer

Imagine walking into a classroom for the first time. You’re young, and in elementary school. Most people remember having fun and making friends. I remember that too, but I also remember being different. As a five year old, I didn’t think much about race. I knew that my skin was a different color than most of the other people in my class, and I knew that my hair was thicker than theirs, but nobody mentioned my race in kindergarten. For some people, their race will never be mentioned all the way through adulthood. 

For me, it was third grade. I was in class, and I had just started to straighten my hair. I remember walking into the room, and the first thing someone asked was, “Woah, Audrey. Did you get a weave?” I remember feeling upset, but not knowing what to say. After that point, my race was no longer something that went unnoticed. I realized that in almost all of my classes, I was the only black person. Sometimes, I was the only person of color. In my elementary, the divide between white people and non-white people was subtle, but clear. Teachers would often comfort my friends, who were white, and offer them advice and help. When I got upset or cried, teachers would tell me to sit and calm down. 

By the time I was in sixth grade, I was fully aware of the difference between me and my white friends. None of them ever did anything on purpose to create a divide; they were just growing up. They never had to think about what they wore, how they talked, or how their words affected others. Most people were like them, and in that community, they were safe.

I moved to Olentangy the summer before I started seventh grade. When I started school in the fall, I was once again one of the only people who looked like me. By then, I was used to it, but it was still frustrating to know that I would have to work my way into another community that wasn’t very familiar with black people. I knew I would have to be careful until the people at my school knew me. I knew that for most of my classmates, I was one of the first black people they had interacted with. I knew that I was a standard on which they would base all other black students after me.

What people often don’t understand is that minorities and people of color always have to be aware. Sadly, most people of color don’t get to ignore their race. In America especially, the historic conflicts between black and white communities cause race to be an integral factor in a person’s identity. A person’s race affects their way of life, their opportunities, their experiences, and their perspectives. 

As a black female, I understand myself, and my race, through my history. I’m only fifteen, but you’re never too young to learn about where you came from. I can’t ignore my history. My race is part of who I am. It affects how I think and how I live. There is so much black history that I’ll never know because of a system that did not value black experiences. Thus, I feel it is my duty to value and cherish any black history knowledge that I attain. 

I look at Black History Month as a time to reflect on my experiences, and the experiences of those before me. It is a time to recount all of the black men and women who have struggled, fought, and lived to promote change. I look at black history as learning opportunities for perspective. I enjoy researching different black stories, and seeing how they correlate, or differ, from my own. Finally, I see February as a time to promote growth and change (And yes, there still needs to be change. The fact that there are kids still walking into schools on the first day and instantly feeling different in all the wrong ways is proof of that.). It is a time to speak freely about race, and continue to use the ideas, motivations, and power that many black people before me pushed for their whole lives. 

I know I am not every black experience. I am currently growing up in a moderately affluent household. I am in a very successful school system. I know I have been very fortunate. But I also know that when I walk into a room, one of the first things most people notice is my race. Sometimes, that makes my life harder, but this month, it is a reminder of something beautiful. I use Black History Month to hold on to who I am, and who I will always be: Black, Strong, and Proud.