Students Write Letters of Activism
June 11, 2020
In response to the most recent events related to the murder of George Floyd and other instances of police brutality, the Dial started a letter-writing campaign to express student opinion during these upsetting times. We contacted a few Dial reporters and students who were particularly vocal during the Air and Share, and asked them to write letters addressed to people they wanted to inform, institutions they wanted to change, or systems they wanted to challenge.
We felt that it was extremely important, especially now in this state of injustice, for students to share their voices with the Hackley community. Even though we can’t be physically together, that doesn’t mean we can’t still learn from each other.
After my sister told me about Ahmaud Arbery’s death, I was swept away by this riptide of emotions I felt. Anger, sorrow, fear, anxiety, grief, frustration welled up inside me. I felt like I could disappear at any moment. I felt invisible.
I remember thinking, “They don’t see us. If they did, this wouldn’t be happening right now.” Even watching the protests on the news today, I still feel extremely anxious that nothing will ever come of it. It’s too easy to think that nothing you ever say will change what already exists, that you can’t possibly matter to anyone. I’ve tried to stop thinking this way, but with everything I’ve lived through growing up Black in America, it’s harder said than done.
And I acknowledge the good, people of all races uniting in support of basic human decency. But I can’t quit this nagging feeling that I don’t matter. That it will all be swept under the rug one day, forgotten when we move on to the next American scandal, all the anger dissipating into numbness.
Because before I felt angry at Ahmaud Arbery’s death, I felt numb. I had let myself forget the pain in favor of sedation. But I know now that willful ignorance cannot be bliss. I hope and I hope and I dare to dream that now, finally now, people see us.
With best wishes towards the future,
Dear White America,
I am writing a letter to you because it is not my place to tell POC how they should be feeling or giving instructions to them about what to do next, but I think you need to hear this. We have privilege. That is indisputable and has caused so much harm since the birth of this country. That privilege runs deep and affects the way we think, feel, act, speak, and listen. It is so entrenched in who we are, many forget it is even there and that is how you know it is powerful. Another thing that runs deep in White America is apathy which holds the same amount of power and is just as threatening to progress and people’s lives. In not saying anything, you succumb to your privilege and de facto give fuel to the system in place. In not saying anything, your whiteness becomes something others have to fear. In the past few days, I have felt possibly the most shame I have ever felt in my life. I am ashamed that this is the world we live in, I am ashamed of the inherent rights that my skin provides me, and I am ashamed of my race for the crimes we have committed and the infinite second chances we have been given. But at least that head-buzzing-wide-awake-at-night kind of shame means that I have not fallen victim to apathy and to my privilege and for that I am proud. I know I can be better and I will strive to do just that, but at least I feel something and care about something important. White America, find that feeling within you. Feel ashamed and disappointed because that means you see what must be done and you will not opt out this time, like some many others have done before. One of the smartest people I have ever met once said to me, “just because you are disappointed doesn’t mean you stop doing what you do.” White America, you have the privilege to decide “what you do,” so please choose wisely. I hope part of that “do” includes taking instruction from POC, continuing the conversation with other white people, and using your privilege as a weapon for good. Too many times have we allowed our privilege to control us and drive us towards apathy, please I am begging you, take control of your privilege and get to work.
With hope for better days to come,
Dear Younger Me,
I know you look at your blackness as something that makes you different from everyone else. So it’s bad. You never feel fully black, but obviously you weren’t white. To you, your blackness was a secret not-so-secret detail about you that you wrestle with in your private thoughts. You drift to these during private school, softball pictures, or class photos. In private school, you felt like you didn’t belong here.
To our black friends, we are bougie and watered down. I know you haven’t changed since before you switched schools, but to them I had traded my blackness for a world of books, Stratton, and BMW’s. The saddest part is you do believe you did that and you’re content with that. You reject your blackness on most days, except when it rears its head into life. Which is going to happen more than you’d hope. You get mistaken for the only other black girl in your class. You’re going to feel everyone’s eyes on you when the teacher mentions slavery. It gives you this feeling that you want to run away, straighten your hair, and never look back (sometimes you still feel this way). Now you’re wondering when does this self-rejection stop. You’ll learn about people named Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland. With them, their race was seen as a weapon, for you it will become your strength. Because those three and many others were victims of police brutality and were stopped from using their blackness to empower themselves and their community. It will be your job. You’ll learn about MLK, Malcolm X, Rodney King, and the 13th Amendment. You asked your grandma and your yaya about their life and this time you factored in how amazing their accomplishments were in spite of and because of their race. You stopped tuning out the music at the cookouts. You continued to count as soon as you stepped in a room, but instead of seeing 1,2, you saw strength in those numbers. You realize that no matter your best efforts to turn us into something we’re not, society, the police, and future bosses will see us as just another black girl. You’re not. You are a black girl though, and we embrace it. You embrace the awful feeling that we can come to a violent end, screaming for air, and everyone would hear you, but nobody would listen. We listen, learn, we sign every petition, text every number, make calls, post informative but colorful insta stories, and watch documentaries. And yes, we still have our moments where it would be easier to put our head down and do nothing, but we can’t do that anymore. Because change must come and you don’t just get change, you’ll learn that you have to fight for it. Racism, the systems of inequalities, that allow police to step over a bleeding old man, or murder a man in broad daylight.
So we keep fighting: me and you, us. So that these injustices of identity can never happen again, including our own.
Dear Hackley Students,
Thank you for your ongoing support to fight the cruelty that African Americans face every day as it relates to police brutality. It is simply unjust for Black men, women, and children to be murdered by police officers simply because of the color of their skin. I believe that as a Hackley community, students and faculty members need to continue to become aware of the apparent racism, hatred, and bigotry that is currently flowing within the United States of America. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech he believed that “one day [African-Americans will] live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” For the 2020-21 school year and beyond, let’s project that statement on the hilltop and to our respective communities. Whether you are Black, White, Latino, etc, only together can we fight this injustice.
To my future self (in 2024),
I know that things right now are pretty grim. Police brutality and other forms of systemic racism continue to harm people of color in the classrooms, on the streets, in stores, in their own homes, and the list goes on. And you’re probably wondering to yourself: when will it end?
And yet, this also feels like a turning point. It feels like everyone around you is finally joining in to mourn the loss of black life that so deeply affects you. As the sky pays its cloudy respects and the wind blows streams of melancholy through the air, you start to believe that even the earth understands your pain.
Some days you feel extremely motivated, passionate about making a difference. You sign a bunch of petitions and share them with loved ones. You read pages and pages of work created by your black ancestors, detailing the injustices that have plagued our country for over 400 years.
These days you’re on top of the world. You understand the gift of youth that you have been given and the power of time to heal this country’s wounds. You yearn to share your gift of youth with your loved ones who have endured much more than they should have, with the mothers and fathers of those who have lost their children too young, to those themselves who have died, praying and pleading that someway you could bring them back.
And then you realize that signed names on a page or donations to a cause can’t bring them back. No matter how many this isn’t fairs or this never should have happeneds or even defund the polices you yell into the universe, the only thing that comes back is the echo of your cries. These are the other days. The ones where you feel like you’re drowning in a pool of your own hopelessness. Can feel each wave pass over you as these feelings of despair attempt to swallow you whole. You cannot look at another generic black lives matter post. You cannot look at the celebrities you’ve watched steal from your culture and your people, brag about the donations they’ve made to the cause.
You look around you. You question everything and you’re not really sure what it is that can be done. These are the days that tears run down your cheeks, hoping to escape the heavy weights that lay in your eyes, in your heart, and in your mind.
I want you to know that both days are okay. They will happen and unfortunately, like time, they are something you cannot control. But I want you to never give up. To never stop fighting. I want you to speak your mind around people who make ignorant comments, I want you to self-advocate in the classroom and I want you to do everything you can to push back against people who try and make you feel small.
I know that you wrote another letter that you would so much rather be published. I know you poured your heart and soul into that one and it hurts to look back and wonder why that’s not the one you chose. It was honest and raw and you just want to say screw this and show the world some of the pain you’ve been feeling. I want you to know that you made the right decision in this moment. I want you to know that you are not keeping it because of them but you are keeping it for you. I hope that someday it is the right time to publish the other version.
I hope that by the time you re-read this that things are different. For the world, for people of color, for whatever school you choose to attend. For you. I hope that when you look back on who you were in this moment you can feel proud. I also hope that you grow to be so much more from this because your potential is limitless.
Some changes I hope were made by the time you next read this. I hope that there are more girls, especially girls of color, in advanced STEM classes. I hope that there is more of a uniform process for getting recommendations for these classes and that this new process ensures the equal and fair treatment of girls. I hope that you have more advocates in the classroom, especially in humanities classes where there can be some difficult conversations. Whether that be your peers or your teachers, I hope that they understand the danger of silence. I hope that eurocentric beauty standards stop being put on a pedestal and that people really start to understand that black is beautiful. But I most of all hope that the experience for black girls in private school improves. That they are not subjected to the damaging prejudiced beliefs of some of their peers, that they are not forced by their teachers to grow up too fast and that they can continue to transform into the queens that they are.
Wishing you nothing but the best and hoping that things are better than they are now.