For Black History Month, we wanted to spotlight how some of our Black student ambassadors are celebrating, both personally and within their communities. We hope you enjoy our conversation with Aliyah!
Aliyah is a high school senior in Dallas, Texas. Read on to learn how she celebrates Black History Month and what it means to her to be a Black student.
RaiseMe: How do you celebrate Black History Month? Why do you think it’s important to celebrate Black History Month?
Alyiah: I have a kind of controversial view on Black History Month. I don’t really celebrate it, because I have an issue with containing my people’s history in a month. I don’t think that’s a thing. I think that Black history encompasses all history, it shouldn’t be just a month. I celebrate all the time by acknowledging where I come from, and all the greats that have before me.
I think it’s important to tell their story (Black Leaders). The school that I go to is a predominantly white institution. I go to a private school in Dallas, and there are not many people of color here that I can look up to. So I think that I take it upon myself to tell the story of people like Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, and all the greats that came before us. It’s important to me that I educate my classmates and peers so that they know their stories. Through me uplifting these stories, they will know it’s something I really relate to and it’s something that’s really important to me. I’m making it a point to tell everybody that I can about my history.
RaiseMe: How did you learn about Black History Month?
Aliyah: I’ve always been taught by my family to respect my history and remember where I come from, but I’ve also delved into it myself. I’ve gotten into it by reading autobiographies of Malcolm X and different Black leaders’ initiatives.
RaiseMe: How does your school celebrate Black History Month?
Aliyah: We have affinity groups at school. Every month, we have two meetings where we get together with groups — people of color will get together with their counterparts. For this month, we are going to have a presentation on Harlem Renaissance writers. The group is focused on highlighting the writers that everyone knows about like Langston Hughes, but I want to focus on writers that nobody knows, like Zora Neale Hurston.
RaiseMe: What do you think the importance of Black History Month is in 2020 compared to 10 years ago, or 20 years ago? Why?
Aliyah: I think that now more people are becoming aware of the importance of celebrating Black history. People are more open-minded and people are trying to learn. People are actually taking Black History Month seriously and taking it as something that they should try and learn from. And I think that that’s what we wanted at first, but now it’s time to turn Black History Month into Black history, all the time, instead of just a month.
I think we have to acknowledge our history as a country. I think that we choose to forget or try to forget our history because it was a rough patch and it’s a sore spot for America. But I think that we have to open up the wounds and let them bleed in order to heal them. In order for people to acknowledge Black history, they have to acknowledge every part of American history, acknowledge the cruelty of what happened to my ancestors, realize the wrong in it, and find a way to make it right.
RaiseMe Insight: Interested in hearing the perspective on Black History Month from another RaiseMe student ambassador? Learn from Ezinne.
RaiseMe: Who is a Black leader you admire?
Aliyah: That’s a hard question, but I would have to say Malcolm X. Reading his autobiography made me super-empowered and it made me feel like I wanted to make a change. I wanted to do something to keep our history alive. I’ve always connected with his message — by any means necessary. I think that his radical message is what got a lot of people involved, back when he was alive, so I just feel like Malcolm X is definitely my person.
RaiseMe: Have you faced any challenges as a Black student? And what are those challenges? How does it affect your experience in school? Do you feel like there is support for students of color at your school?
Aliyah: I don’t think I’ve had big issues, like discrimination, but there is always going to be those people who insult you in a nice way. I’ve experienced many micro-aggressions, like subtle things people will say that they don’t think are rude, but are rude. Things like “I didn’t know you were that smart!” Subtle things like that, that they find are compliments, but are really backward insults.
If it’s a person I know well, I’ll tell them that “what you just said was offensive.” I’ll let them know. But if I genuinely believe that they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re not educated on the subject, I’ll just shrug it off. I think we need to educate people so that they do know, and so that they don’t make the mistake of being offensive.
RaiseMe: Why are you proud to be Black?
Aliyah: I think that I’m proud to be Black because it’s something that is unique, it’s something that not everybody is. There are so many times where you see our culture appropriated. People are trying to take elements of Black culture and use it, but they can’t because they are not us. There is a line because people can try to be us but there is something unique about people of color. You cannot duplicate it, you cannot reinvent it — it’s our thing. That is something I hold sacred because no one else can have it.
RaiseMe: How is your Black identity influencing what college you want to attend?
I’ve always held myself to a high standard of academics, so it wasn’t necessarily hard to get into the schools that I wanted to go to. Because of the school I go to, we have access to unlimited college resources with college counselors and teachers who know the college process.
I’m okay with being the only person of color, because I know that I’m solid within myself. I’m confident enough to where I can spread my culture anywhere that I go.
Editor’s Note: RaiseMe has made edits to quotes to provide clarity.