This year, the Rutland Area NAACP held our second annual Black History Month High School Contest. Unlike last year, when the contest only included essays, this year there were two categories: writing and digital art. The focus was on problematic laws that perpetuate rather than eliminate racism. We selected these in order to engage young people in the process of grappling with systemic racism, especially at this crucial time when divisive concepts laws are being developed across the nation. Our two winners—Addie Lentzner, 17, of Arlington High School and Christelle Poteau, 17, of Mount Saint Joseph Academy—submitted pieces that reflected a thoughtful and impassioned understanding of the laws and issues impacting us each day.
Christelle Poteau, 17, Mount Saint Joseph Academy
Artist’s statement: One day in the future, a kid like myself will ask an adult, “Why do people that look like me come to America?” “Who were these Black people fighting for freedom? Freedom from what?” “What happened to the Natives?” “Why does feminism exist?” “Why is the world around us, the way it is today?” As a black, female student, I fear that one day, no teacher, or parent would be able to answer these questions. At that point, an essential part of the history of colored people and women would be erased, while putting underneath the carpet the worse actions of angry white men, allowing the law limiting teachers to teach us about subjects like slavery and racism, sexism, politic and ethics and other aspects of America (that is happening now or happened in the past). My piece is a visual representation of how a law like this one, blinds kids from seeing what America really is. It burns down part of their past and keeps them away from making the changes necessary for the good of the country. When a problem is simply hidden from our vision, it does not fix the problem, we simply don’t see it, but one day, it will simply grow and explode in our face. This is why we should learn America’s History as it happened within its timeline, learn from the mistakes of the generation before us, learn from both their mistakes and achievements and try our best to do better.
Addie Lentzner, 17, Arlington High School
Institutional racism is seeping through our society at all levels, but perhaps the most insidious level it is enveloped in are our schools. Education is the key to social change, and an anti-racist education will inevitably lead to an anti-racist society. That’s why students are so committed to receiving an anti-racist education, and why the opposition is so committed to ensuring we don’t receive it.
Systemic racism is as American as apple pie; it has been a part of our country for generations. It flourishes in healthcare, impoverished neighborhoods, redlined maps, and policing and the criminal justice system. Racism persists in all levels – from our government to our preschools. As kids grow up in America, they can’t escape the grasp of racial inequity and discrimination. Biases are inculcated into kids from an early age, and nobody is immune to it. That’s why ignoring racism is not enough. That’s why color-blindness only causes harm. That’s why neglecting to discuss racism in our schools is perhaps the most dangerous threat to the longevity of our country; because without learning about racism, kids are going to be racist. Without seeing themselves reflected in the curriculum, students of color are going to be negatively affected. Without education on anti-racism, all kids will suffer.
As a student, I have joined with other youth in advocating for my own education, because what I was getting from my teachers was not enough. Through the Vermont Stydent Anti-Racism Network, we created lesson plans for elementary school, we created lesson plans for high school, we submitted a bill, and we advocated across the state of Vermont for anti-racist education. We have created affinity spaces at the statewide level to encourage brave conversations, and we have created advisory lessons for middle and high school.
Yet as we engage in this important work, states around the USA are banning “Critical Race Theory.” This comes at a time when redlining, the wealth gap, police brutality, and discrimination demand progressive solutions. If kids can’t even talk about race in school, how can they learn how to solve these problems? Divisie Concepts laws don’t just impact schools. They impact all levels of society by hindering our ability to make change and promote social justice. That is why it is so important that students and teachers speak up for anti-racism in education and push back against these divisive concepts. I call on everyone in the education community to use your voice to make change before these bills pass in any more states. Now is the time to act, not only for our children, but for the country as a whole.