We held our first annual high school essay contest for Black History month in February, and received many insightful and creative responses. Winners received Visa gift card prizes, certificates, and bragging rights. The three winning essays are below.
First place, Narges Anzali, Middlebury Union High School
“You don’t love America.”
Perhaps you have used it or watched adults on TV lob this insult at each other. Perhaps your own parents have even accused people of this apparent crime. Perhaps you have heard it railed against you. What do you think love is? Do you think love is overlooking every fault? Do you think love is continuing on ignoring when someone hurts you? Do you think that when someone has been hurt by a person they love that they should sit down and let them because that is what love means? Most people would say no to these questions. We were taught at an early age, us teenagers of the Internet, that love, real, mature love, is looking at someone’s actions and explaining how they hurt you. Or what they can do to make it stop, and what they can do to make up for past hurts. And with this understanding, anti-racists are perhaps the people who love this country most of all.
We do not blindly try to force the injustices committed against Black people to go ignored. Forcing Black people to forgive this country without due action and due reparations for all the damages inflicted against them and their communities is showing not love for this country, not respect for this country, but indulgence. If we love our country, we should want to move forward with it in a way that is better than how we moved forward before. If we love our country, we should respect it enough to challenge the policies and views that harm the people that it is supposed to represent. And most of all, if we love this country, we do not let this country move on without making up for the atrocities committed in the past. Love does not mean that you remain stagnant and who you were at the beginning, with no changes. Love means that you grow together, a government and a people growing together as one.
In 1787, when the Constitution was first adopted, ‘we the people’ meant about 6% of the population. We grew. And now we have to grow again, and recognise that the way that we are functioning is not working. It is not working, because Black people are murdered in the streets. It is not working, because Black households are more likely to have a lower family income for the same work as white households. It is not working, because Black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth. We have to be anti-racist, together. We have to love our country, together. We have to hold our country accountable, together. And we have to move forward together.
Second Place, Addie Lentzner, Arlington Memorial High School
If we want to build an anti-racist society, we need to start with the youngest generation. Education is our key to that better society, and we, the students of today, have the powerful opportunity to change the education system from the inside out. Our schools — microcosms of society — are waiting in front of us 30 hours a week to be changed for the better. We can’t sit passively in school; we need to take this into our own hands. We need to be taught a diverse history that reflects all students learning it. Not just once a year in the month of February, not just slavery and Martin Luther King Jr., but a full, flourishing history with stories of the people of our world. We need to learn about white supremacy and the history of racism and how to be anti-racist from an early age. We need to diversify the teacher workforce and provide anti-bias training for teachers. We need to promote conversations in our classrooms. We need to be talking with each other about racism and why Black Lives Matter belongs in the classroom. We’re all enraged by ignorance and racism in society, but we can tangibly change that by talking to our schoolmates before we all graduate into the larger world. Talk to your friends about current protests. Discuss disparities in society. Denounce white supremacy with your peers. That’s the first step. But then, we all have the power to advocate for curriculum change within our schools, to change unfair policies, or to raise money for diverse books in the library. Does your school have a BIPOC affinity space and an anti-racism committee, and are you a part of it? If not, be the one to start it. Is your school’s curriculum inclusive and reflective of our world? Does your school show the 1965 debate between Baldwin and Buckley and discuss it afterward? Does your school teach about wealth inequality, housing segregation, and the comprehensive, full array of accomplishments of people of color? If not, talk to teachers and advocate to change the curriculum. The power of your voice can ripple change throughout the community. You have the power, as young people, to change society simply by changing your school. Right now in America is the time for the movement. The movement occupies a miniscule window in history before the people lose passion and the cycle of racism perpetuates for another generation. If we use the momentum to build anti-racist schools instead of letting the momentum fly out of our grasp, we can leave an impact that lasts long after our time. Many people are calling for a return to normalcy but we cannot go back to normal and let the wrongs of history continue unchecked. We must build a new normal before it’s too late, and we build that new normal brick by brick, school by school, classroom by classroom, starting right now, with our generation, together.
Third Place, Ari Graham-Gurland, Middlebury Union High School
I wake up each morning and check my phone. It’s always a mistake. Inevitably I’ll find myself endlessly swiping past stories and posts, ensnared by their desperate appeals to humanity. There is so much wrong in the world and it all seems to be slamming itself into my hands, demanding that I be the one to fix it. Racism and racial injustice frequently cross my feed. The posts vary immensely. There are GoFundMe’s, petitions, infographics, awareness posts, and the occasional video of police brutality. I try to reshare the petitions and educational posts but of course that’s not enough. What is enough though? There will never be an “enough” to anti-racism but that notion, instead of pushing me to strive further, often follows the well traveled path through my thoughts to the realms of hopelessness and inaction. I feel overwhelmed by the volume of the appeals and come out drained simply from empathizing with them all.
Later, once Insta’s been closed, there’s a voice that always starts to hum in the back of my mind. It plays a melody that I could never forget even if I tried. I don’t try though, and it keeps humming. It reminds me that I should do something, I can do something, I must do something. It’s a tune that’s been inspired by all of those before me who have stood up for what they believed in. And to take that action, the hardest thing to do is to start. To resist the weight of all that hopelessness. That’s how it always is for me at least. Once I’ve started though, it’s easy to charge forward. I feel empowered and hopeful because I look out and I am not alone. I open Instagram again and now I see the thousands of people who are all taking their own actions to be consciously anti-racist. Together we’re writing letters, educating ourselves, talking with our representatives and listening to those whose voices deserve to be elevated. Together we’ve created change here in Vermont too, one action at a time. We’ve brought about gun reform legislation in 2018 and passed Act 1 (H.3) in 2019. H.3 established a working group to tackle making our public education system more inclusive and diversity focused. It’s not a comprehensive curriculum yet, but it’s a start. Our actions created a new place to embark from so we can pull that next ideal into reality. It’s that one starting move, that one action then another and another which launched the Black Lives Matter movement into today, and into tomorrow, where it should have been all along. Because parts of society seem to think that Black lives don’t matter, or matter less, and that’s why I’m here. That’s why you’re here. Still reading this. The vulnerable ramblings of a fifteen year old girl, trying to piece the world back together, just one word at a time. And so I ask you: what will your action be?