In honor of Black History Month, we’re running a series of profiles and Q&As with members of the African-American community at Haas. Follow the series throughout February.
Where did you grow up and what was your experience growing up black in your community?
I was born in Chicago. My dad’s job transferred my family to Raleigh, North Carolina, when I was 10. When we lived in the southern suburbs of Chicago, my neighborhood was all black and my school was fairly diverse. We were very close to family, and my parents ensured that I felt a sense of pride in being black. I don’t think I truly became aware of the impacts of race on my life until we moved to North Carolina, where my neighborhood was all white and my school was predominantly white. I never felt that I identified with any group of people in Raleigh. I often heard microaggressions and stereotypes that made me uncomfortable but that I didn’t know how to deal with or counter. It wasn’t until I found a more progressive, diverse group of friends in college that I had a community where my voice was heard and respected as a black person.
Who are a few African American historical figures/leaders/writers who you honor, or who have had an impact on your life?
I, of course, honor the well-known historical figures, but the black people that I most revere are in my family. My grandparents all migrated from the south as part of the Great Migration, which is a very significant part of U.S. history that has shaped the culture of many major cities in the United States. I feel that embarking on such a huge life transformation takes a lot of courage, tenacity, and resilience. I think the effects of this have trickled down through the generations in my family and have ensured that each generation is afforded more opportunities than the previous. I wouldn’t be at Haas today were it not for their investments in my education and development.
What can be done in the schools or in our country to build more understanding of black history outside of Black History Month?
Conversations need to be more open and honest about the history of black people in the United States and how that has had positive impacts on our society but has also led to violently oppressive systems. I think people need to discuss the true reasons behind current “controversial” topics surrounding the black community today (Black Lives Matter, Colin Kaepernick, etc.) instead of dismissing them as un-American. These events are Black History, and people balked at integration in the same way. I think simply taking the time to engage with what’s happening in the black community today and legitimizing the thoughts and feelings of black people is a way to learn more about black history. Furthermore, it’s important to note that black history did not end with the civil rights era, it continues today and is still evolving.
Black culture and history is everywhere! There are so many books, movies, and articles in popular culture that are now easy to access. Articles such as The Case for Reparations, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and the documentary 13th on Netflix, directed by Ava DuVernay, are current pieces that I believe provide insight into how legalized discrimination has impacted the black community. The Smithsonian Museum for African-American History and Culture in DC is a beautiful free museum that thoughtfully examines black culture in the US, and I think everyone should visit.
What do you wish others knew about being black in the U.S.?
I want others to appreciate the diversity within the black community and look beyond stereotypes. A lot of black culture that is widely circulated and exported only shows one side of the black community. There is culture that is emerging (HBO’s Insecure, Black Panther, Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance) that gives a more nuanced glimpse into what it is to be black in the U.S. As in any culture, black people vary in their political opinions, religious beliefs, gender identities, and sexualities, socio-economic and educational experiences, and family structures. I would hope that these aspects of pop culture will encourage people to appreciate the rich diversity of the black community. Haas has been one of the few places where I feel people are genuinely interested in the black experience, and I wish others would express the same desire to learn and understand more about being black in the US.
I also want people to understand that black pride is not racist. These are movements and ways of thought that are meant to build a sense of community and pride in a world that is constantly telling us that we are less than, we are not qualified, and we are not American.