WHAT MATTERS

with Janee Woods

We See You, Smart Black Boys and Girls

Can I be honest with you right now? I am feeling discouraged.

The killing of Black people by the police just doesn’t stop. Today, we’re mourning Freddie Gray, who was wrongfully accosted by the police and then sustained brutal, fatal spinal injuries while being transported, restrained by leg shackles, in a police vehicle. The cause of his injuries remains a “mystery,” as if there’s anything mysterious about the pattern revealed here: Black man, unjust police interaction, dead Black man. This is not new.

Millions of people of color remain trapped in the cycle of intergenerational poverty, handed down like a legacy from grandparent to parent to child, courtesy of the American way.

I sometimes feel overwhelmed.

Children of color don’t seem to stand a chance in the public school system, where they’re stereotyped as troublemakers and disciplined far more harshly than white students, and with graver long term consequences like a oneway ticket straight into the school to prison pipeline.

The intersection of racism and sexism is a deep abyss that leaves little energy to call loud and hard for the justice and well being of women of color. People are marching for Freddie. But almost nobody showed up for Rekia Boyd, an unarmed woman shot by a police officer as he sat inside his car. It’s kind of telling that the most talked-about press of a dead Black woman happened during Bruce Jenner’s rather sensationalized prime time interview in which he announced he is transgender. While Jenner admirably raises the issue of violence against black transwomen during Diane Sawyer’s interview with him for ABC, the focus remains primarily on the coming out of a rich, white privileged reality star.

I am ready for change. Let’s disrupt the popular narrative about Black life that says we’re primarily victims of police brutality, bad economic circumstances and prejudiced school systems. Of course, these things are true, but you know what else is true? Black life is intelligent. Black life is successful. Black life is full of promise of good things to come and good things that are happening right now.

NatalieMcGriff

Natalie McGriff with her winning comic book. WBLS Screenshot/The Root

This is not just wishful thinking. Look at all the spectacular young Black people out there, excelling and being amazing in defiance of the institutionalized racism that threatens the joy of their existence every day. The world is full of smart Black boys and smart Black girls.

Natalie McGriff authored The Adventures of Moxie Girl, the empowering comic book about a girl who hates her natural hair at first but then discovers that her afro-puffs have magical superpowers. McGriff, only seven years old, won a $16,000 crowdfunded prize for this story, which she co-created with her mother.

Kwasi Enin earned admission to all eight Ivy League schools, a rare feat in the world of ultra-exclusive universities. The first generation American son of immigrant parents from Ghana, Enin also scored in the 99th percentile of all students taking the SAT. He hopes to become a physician.

Marques Brownlee became an internet superstar at age 14, when he launched a YouTube channel featuring video reviews and tutorials about the latest technology available to consumers, like the iPhone 6. Views of his channel have surpassed the 158 million mark. His channel is worth an estimated $3,000,000 per year.

How incredible are these stories? I know there are many more stories to be told about our smart Black boys and our smart Black girls. Let’s celebrate this narrative about talent, brains and hard work as a counterpoint to the entrenched violence and discrimination against people of color that capture the headlines every day. We need more of these kinds of stories to lift up the extraordinary resilience and brilliance of young Black people.

What’s your story? Tweet me @janeepwoods and Scenarios @ScenariosUSA. We want to hear about your triumphs! Did you get an A on a test at school? Were you accepted to your first choice college? Did you start a small business that’s really taking off? Are you writing a new screenplay? Were you elected to be class president? What did you do that was awesome? Tell us! Use #smartblackgirl or #smartblackboy on your social media so we all can follow along and celebrate each other’s success!

You’re really smart and talented. Let the world know.

This post (including the awesome graphics and photos) was published originally on Scenarios USA, where I am a new contributor to The Scenario, a blog where young people and millennials go to talk about social justice issues, the Internet, culture, film and whatever else is on their mind! Scenarios USA is a national organization that uses writing and film to foster youth leadership, advocacy and self-expression, with a focus on marginalized communities.

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This entry was posted on May 2, 2015 by and tagged , , , , .
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