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Olivia Jack

My name is Olivia Grace Jack. My family calls me Liva, Livy, and Olivia Grace. My friends call me Liv. My identity is one of the most important parts of me, something I hold close to my heart.
 
I was born in Saginaw, Michigan- the first of four children in my family.  My mother is white- her father is German, and mother is Italian. My father is black- he was born and raised in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines- a nation made of a chain of islands in the Caribbean.  I am mixed- Vincentian, Italian, German, and American as I was born in the United States of America. My skin is black, I am black.
 
I have struggled with that definition my whole life- whether to say I am black or mixed. If I say I am black to some people, they think that I am disregarding the white genes that are part of my being. If I say I am mixed, it is assumed that I am not willing to embrace my black skin. I have decided over the years, with the countless surveys asking me to choose one racial identity, that I am black. And I love my mom’s side of the family and the genes my mom gave me just the same. If I have the choice to pick more than one race, of course I say I am mixed. But there has never been a racial identity survey that has allowed me to perfectly show my identity- a Vincentian-American woman with West Indian, Italian and German genes.
 
I guess that is one of the first things I noticed about being black in a nation where you’re either white or “other”- there is no identity given on any governmental documents where I can truly define myself as what I am.
 
My grandparents were not slaves. Slavery was abolished in 1865 with the passing of the 13th Amendment. Throughout school, though, there was a common question as to whether my grandparents, or great-grandparents were slaves.  My great-grandmother is still alive- Grandma Pearl- and she is in her mid 80s. Unless she has traveled to the future and created a family, she is not, and never was a slave. If they were to ask about the originality of my last name, Jack, they would respectfully discover that it was given to past family members who were enslaved by the British on the island of Saint Vincent. The nation was emancipated from Britain in my father ‘s lifetime- on October 27th of 1979.
 
That was the second thing I noticed about living in a nation where black skin is not the expected, the respected, skin tone. I have learned about the same United States history throughout elementary school, middle school, and high school- highlighting all the great wonderful things accomplished by the white people of the nation, and touching on slavery. And when we did spend a few days talking about slavery, it was always as though we were tip toeing around the issue of it all- as though in some way, there was a reason why slavery should be validated in some way for its presence. I am in college now, and there are classes I am able to take where professors instruct us to criticize the history we have learned our whole lives. 
 
Imagine if we were not taught from the very beginning that Thomas Jefferson was an angel of a man and president, but instead that he raped the slaves he owned and ended up contributing to the creation black children that had lighter skin tones and were sent to work as house slaves.  What if we grew up learning the history of all members of this nation? If we learned that the Native Americans did in fact know that this land existed well before, and Christopher Columbus stumbled upon it and stole it, making those that lived in the land work for him or die. What if we grew up learning to celebrate the number of cultures we have in this country, as equal in nature, instead of assuming the superiority of the white race?  We cannot drill into the minds of children the ideas of one racial superiority anymore- after all, it’s education that leads to decision making. If someone is taught their whole lives that black people, minorities, are inferior to those with white skin, and they themselves have white skin, they will think it is right to treat them as such.
 
If little black girls like me, who grow up in a predominantly white neighborhood, are taught that their skin is something that she might be punished for having, how can we grow up loving the very skin we live in, the very skin others seem to hate? 
 
I did not always love my black skin, my curly afro. I wanted so badly to have the beautiful straight hair my mom has, so bad that I had it flat-ironed at seven years old, and chunks of my curly hair fell out in the days after I had washed it when my hair was curly again. I learned then that my hair is curly, as it should be. I still didn’t love it- because I was ostracized and questioned daily about my hair, as though it was not simply a different texture of hair but rather a completely different being of its own- a foreign object to be examined. I was constantly asked how I wash it, how I handle it, how it fit into the cap I wore every day during swimming practice. There were many people who were asking simply out of curiosity, who meant no harm and were simply interested in the hair that was different from their own. Although there were times when the questions were worded, presented, stated, as though my hair was something that could not be maintained because it was not like their own.
 
I am tired of being examined. I am not a foreign specimen, imported from a world other than our own. I have pigmented skin, I have melanin. I have a large, curly afro. I have light brown eyes. I am simply different.  I am a beautiful mix of my mother and father, beautifully mixed, beautifully black, and beautifully me. I have a name, a heartbeat, a story.
 
At twenty years old, I am still struggling to believe the statements I made in the past paragraph. I am still bothered by the ignorance created when my black skin is seen, and my origin story is ignored.  I have learned to handle the questions about my hair, and how to decipher if it’s coming from a place of pure curiosity or not. I still struggle with the lack of people who look like me in my sport.
I was one of the few black swimmers from my hometown, and I am now the only black swimmer on the Penn State swimming and diving team. My team is my second family, they have welcomed me as a sister and daughter to every swimmer and coach of the program. What I have struggled with most is not seeing someone who looks like me, doing what I do, at so many competitions.  I have always loved Simone Manuel- she is my idol. I just wish there were more of her, more of us, in the sport that has my heart, so that we weren’t seen as foreigners in our own world.
 
I have been the victim of countless questionable looks when I am with white friends of mine, as though I don’t belong. I have been told that swimming is not the sport I am supposed to compete in. I have been rejected from social events I planned on going to, while my white friends were allowed in with no question. My friends have been questioned if I am bothering them, when I am walking with a group of them and I am the black one of the group. And until I sat down to write this, I hadn’t noticed that I had become so numb to those experiences that I have just accepted them as normality. Writing this, I am remembering how abnormal and unfair the experiences actually are.
 
I don’t have a story of being arrested and targeted because of the color of my skin, and I don’t have a story of being physically assaulted due to my racial identity.  I do, however, stand as someone who has lived as the diverse member of the community, the team, and the friend group. I haven’t had life-threatening experiences, but I have had those that have knocked down my confidence and made me question my worth as a black skinned biracial woman in this world. I have been made to feel as though I should not belong, on many occasions, throughout my twenty years of life.
 
I also have the most supportive family, friends, and personal community around me that constantly reassure me that I am loved, for every difference I might have. They have helped me develop the identity I am proud to have today. Imagine if everyone in the world took on the same level of embracing differences of the people around them.  Imagine if we were taught to love one another, to see color, and to celebrate all shades, from the very beginning of our education.  We would not be protesting for the recognition that black lives do in fact matter, that our lives are worthy of the love and protection that other skin tones receive.  Families and friends would not have to worry about their loved ones leaving their house, their safe communities, to go out into the world who might not see them as one of their own.

I think that as soon as people learn to love who they are- their skin, their hair, their identity- it will be so much easier to see the beauty in others as well, no matter how different the beauty is from their own.

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Aeneas Hawkins

My name is Aeneas Hawkins and I am from Cincinnati Ohio. I’m the son of a loving mother and father who have both been very active parents. I am a brother to four sisters. They are my best friends, and everything that I aspire towards is for them. I am a football player at Penn State, where I study broadcast journalism. My intentions are to go to law school and defend those who need legal help most. I grew up in church and that’s where most of my values stem from. I’m a firm believer that having positive role models within reach is crucial to a young person’s growth. Personally, I gravitated to the men on my father’s side of the family. Nearly every one of them either played Division I football or played professionally. We always joke that football is our family business, however it’s a reality that has played a big part in how my identity has developed over time.

I grew up in an all white neighborhood, but was homeschooled until I went to high school. I’d admit that being homeschooled sheltered me from the harsh realities of what being a black man in this country means. It was not until I got to Moeller High School that I began to see with my own eyes the ways in which people like me are made to feel less valued. In my own experience, I quickly learned that the stigma around big black football players is grim. I was presumed to be uneducated, violent, and incapable of making mature decisions before being given the opportunity to prove otherwise. As a young man especially, this realization angered me beyond anything I had ever felt. I would like to say, I’m not THE most intelligent person out there, but up until high school I had thrived academically, and played classical piano at a high level. I say that to say this- the anger and frustration that stemmed from the awareness of knowing that some of my own classmates and teachers looked down upon me purely because of the color of my skin sent me down a road of depression. The joy and peace that had defined who I was was stolen from me in my youth. 

My mother one day pulled me aside and said it seemed as if I was just in “survival mode”. She said I had become a shell of myself. My grades suffered so much that I nearly did not qualify to accept an athletic scholarship. She told me she prayed for me. I’m a very spiritual man myself, and her saying that the only way she could help me was to pray spoke volumes. It showed me that neither of us had truly been equipped with ways to combat racism on an actionable level. I made a decision that day to find action and to take it.

My people are crying out for help. For hundreds of years black men, women, and children have been sold, raped, killed, oppressed, taken advantage of, run a muck, and belittled. I am angry and so are my people. As a football player, everything about my entire existence has built me to fight. I’ve learned to fight for my people and am still learning how to now. I educate myself through conversation and reading. I’ve learned the importance of going to vote. I’ve practiced hitting the streets with my brothers and sisters to protest and fight the oppression and violence we have been subjected to. What I was surprised to learn is that taking action has been the most healing activity for me yet. I remember the first protest I was a part of vividly. The pain in people’s voices moved me to goosebumps and tears. It was the first time I could see firsthand that these feelings and experiences I was having were shared. In these moments, I think about my four beautiful sisters, my future wife, and my kids. I want them to know their power, value, and beauty. I do not want them to ever feel the same way I have felt, or the way that my people sometimes feel.

Lately, my focus in life has shifted. I have spent too much time solely focused on becoming the best athlete I can be. I believe that my power is much greater off of the field and in my community than it is on the field. A part of my mission now is to help my fellow black student athletes realize the power and influence that they hold. I believe that if we can come together to combat these issues we are faced with, we can make a great difference. 

Recently at a gas station, I was confronted by a racist man at my pump. As he closed the distance between us, all I could think about was the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery. I had done nothing wrong and was being aggressively targeted again for the color of my skin. I survived this incident, but the very evening it happened I made a promise that I would fight for my people because lives are still being threatened and taken daily. As we continue to move into the post George Floyd era, I’d encourage and challenge people to still be active and fight for change even when it’s not trendy or convenient to do so. This fight is not over. There is work to be done and we need people who will do it. Be the people.

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Emma Shields

My name is Emma Shields. I live in Troy, New York, but I’m originally from Germany and I go to Emma Willard School. I play basketball for my High School, the City Rocks for AAU, and I play for the German National U16 team. I am biracial- my mother is black (Ghanaian and German) and my dad is white. 

Last year, a white teammate of mine used the n-word singing along to a song before practice. This was not the first time I saw this girl do that. She had posted a video on her snapchat story singing it in a car. When I saw the video, I was shocked. I would have never expected her to do that. The video had made me extremely disappointed in her and uncomfortable, so when it happened the next week at practice, one would think I wouldn’t have been as shocked, but I was even more appalled because I had also considered her a friend. The most upsetting part for me was that when it happened, the only other person who even noticed was my only other black teammates. Everyone else continued to sing the song without acknowledging what had happened. My heart felt as if it had dropped to my stomach. I felt so uneasy and disrespected. I have never looked at her the same and lost all respect for her.

Her using the word, even if it wasn’t used in a derogatory way in the song, became derogatory when it came out of her mouth. The blatant racism and ignorance expressed by her was one of many that black people have to experience when surrounded by ignorant and uneducated people who do not see the wrong in what they are doing. This also shows the problems that can occur when being the only black person or one of the few on a sports team consisting of mostly white athletes. We have to continue calling out acts of racism and educating people on the history of the n-word to make a change and allow for everyone to feel comfortable and accepted in sports.

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Tommy Crawford

My name is Tommy Crawford, and I’m from Highlands Ranch, Colorado. I’m continuing my basketball career at Colorado College, a liberal arts college in Colorado Springs. I come from a community that is 90% white, and I just graduated from Thunder Ridge High School. I face discrimination both in school and outside of school. At school, it’s mostly stereotypes that aren’t necessarily physically harmful, like “What are you going to have for lunch, fried chicken?”. Or, it can have a greater impact, such as people calling me the n-word or moon cricket, and more offensive names like that. When I sit down at a place I don’t know, like a lunch table, or when we get new seats in the classroom, people move their keys, wallets, and phones off the table and into their bag or pocket. When I walk through the halls, I can often hear people snickering and making racist comments. Since I went to a primarily white school, people think it’s okay to say the n-word as a part of their normal vocabulary, because they receive no consequences for doing so. When people say colored people and more privileged towns and counties experience less discrimination, they are wrong: we just experience it differently. As colored people, we see the little things that white people can’t see.

I’ve also faced discrimination and racism outside of the classroom. When I go through the grocery store with my brother or dad, and we walk through an aisle, sometimes I see mothers move their children to the other side of their body opposite of where we are walking. At the mall, women move their purses to the other side of their body when walking past us. As black people, we look through a different lens when going about our daily activities. We see the little things that people do naturally to specific people. It’s as if we see a different world, and we have to go through activities differently to come out fine. For example, when we get pulled over, we are told to put our hands on the dashboard to look forward,answer clearly,be respectful and ask to make movements. White people don’t have to go through this struggle, because the police force doesn’t see them as much as a threat. It’s sad to see how many people in my predominantly white community don’t see these simple discriminatory actions. That is why they thought Kaepernick kneeling was disrespectful to the flag- because they didn’t know the backstory of what he was doing and why. They were unaware of the impact and racism the police force in many cities has on people of color. I hope these riots and protests help them realize what is wrong with the system of racism and discrimination within our country.

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Moe Robinson

My name is Micaela Robinson, and I’m from Latham, NY. I play soccer and will continue playing at Assumption University in the fall. I am biracial- my mother is white and my father is black. My dad’s family is from Barbados, they were originally slaves owned by Benedict Cumberbatch’s ancestors. My family was offered reparations from Benedict Cumberbatch, but the slaves in Barbados gained freedom differently than in America. They pushed out the colonizers, and were able to keep the land they worked, including all that was on the land. Currently, the plantation my family worked on is a sort of museum, I have yet to visit, but plan to soon.  

Although I am biracial, I have been told I can pass for white, which gives me a significant privilege over those with darker complexions than me. It’s odd for me because most of the experiences I’ve personally had with race are not what the typical black or biracial person would endure; however, my immediate family has had drastically different experiences. I feel incredibly bad for my brother and father, along with others in the community, because I am one of them, but will never face the same struggles that they face. One of my friends describes this as “light skin guilt.” I feel guilty because even though I would consider myself part of the community, I will never experience the pain and injustice they go through daily. The racism I experience is different from what darker-skinned people experience. People will either forget, or won’t know that I am a person of color. They say things around me that they would normally say around their other white friends, not realizing that I may take offense to those words and phrases, such as the casual use of the n-word. Most of my friends would describe me as extremely politically correct, which really bothers me. I do try and correct people but it usually doesn’t stop them from saying those words. With the events currently going on, I hope some of the people who are participating in these microaggressions may come to the realization that this is wrong, and start to change their ways.

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Antoinette Bradley

Antoinette Bradley
Penn State Track and Field, 19 years old
@itssssant

A teammate of mine made a racist post on Instagram. 

The post was extremely insensitive and disrespectful to black women, but when it was brought to our team’s attention, we had a team meeting with an empty apology from the person who posted it. 

Ever since that team meeting, I have felt uncomfortable around that person and I have viewed them completely differently. 

I am disappointed that no further actions were taken. 

How can we say “We Are”, but turn around and give racist people a slap on the wrist for their actions, who act completely against the history of the saying?

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Sincere Rhea

Hello everyone, my name is Sincere Rhea. 

I am a rising sophomore track and field student-athlete. However, before any of that I am a black and latino young man. 

A police officer or anyone else doesn’t see me as a student-athlete, they see another “thug” or someone who needs to “go back home”. But why don’t they see a future doctor or future broadcaster? 

I’ve been racially profiled all my life, even getting to college. The burden of having someone follow you around the store because they are worried you might steal something is a frequent experience of mine. 

Now, racial profiling or racism may not ever end. However, we can stand unified and strong as one nation under God.

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Victoria Rollins


My name is Victoria. I go to Guilderland High School, and I play soccer for the Albany Alleycats soccer club. My teammates and coaches call me Tor. I am biracial. My mother is white, and both of her parents are American, of German and Polish descent. My father is black, his parents and grandparents were also born in America.

When I was little, I didn’t think much about my skin color. I knew I was biracial, but it wasn’t my primary focus. Now that I am older, I am fully aware of what I look like and how that might affect my life. When a person who does not know me tries to identify my race, they usually assume that I am only black. When I explain to them that I am biracial, they are shocked to find out that I am also white. 

As a person of color, I’ve had experiences that disturb me to this day. For example,when I started high school, I had just switched schools and didn’t know anyone. On the way to class, another person of color and I were stopped by someone we didn’t know. He aggressively yelled that we “should be thankful to be in America and that we should respect what this country has done for our kind of people and the opportunities it’s given us”. It bothers me that there are people who truly believe that people of color should be thankful for “what America has done for them”. 

It’s the black community’s resilience and persistence that should earn them equal opportunity and respect. We have contributed to many achievements that helped build America. Contributions to society by the black community are only recognized as important because of the extra mile black people have had to go in order to prove their worth.

On multiple occasions, I’ve had to educate people that certain words, phrases, or stereotypes are unacceptable to say to or about a person of color. I shouldn’t have to explain, but unfortunately, some people do not understand why these phrases are wrong.

I used to be really good friends with someone who happened to be white. We were just casually talking when he referred to someone he was talking about as the n-word. I didn’t know what to think. This was a person who I had known for a long time, and I never thought he would use that word. I politely told him that what he said was not okay, and that this particular word has a negative connotation and a long, painful history. What further annoyed me was that he tried to justify using that word by saying that he was given a “pass” by other friends.

I don’t say that word because I think it’s wrong. I told this individual that If he continued to use this word, we could no longer be friends, as it is offensive to me and many people in the black community. Sadly, we are no longer friends.

It’s heartbreaking to see that we live in a world where racism still exists. To see people being treated poorly because of the color of their skin is appalling. It goes to show that a lot more needs to be done to fix the injustices that we continue to see in this day and age. Non-black people need to be held accountable for their actions and recognize that their privilege often exists at the expense of black people. It’s infuriating to watch people only receive a slap on the wrist when they deliberately dehumanize and kill black people on the basis of race. 

Black lives are put at risk because of the social prejudices that prevent black people from living life as freely as someone who is white. Skin color does not determine someone’s worth, and it does not dictate the treatment that they should receive. To grow, people have to open up their eyes to the brutality and mistreatment that the black community endures every day and how much damage it has caused. You have to learn to unlearn. It’s important to listen to those who have been affected, have difficult conversations, and collectively come together to figure out what steps need to be taken to eliminate racial injustices. People need to learn how their actions are affecting others and that as a society, we need to evolve.

Instead of dividing people over their racial differences, we should learn to love people for who they are. We should be celebrating the different shades that people come in, not fearing it. It’s important to teach that diversity is not something to be ashamed of and it can expand our worldview for the better.

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Michael Gaines

Michael Gaines
Penn State Soccer
19 years old​
@mg_2fly

My name is Michael Gaines and I am a soccer player at Penn State University. The last month has certainly been difficult and disheartening in some ways, and encouraging in others. I have never faced overt and blatant racism to this point, although I’ve had uncomfortable race related moments in my life. This, in fact, is my opinion on how I’ve experienced my own type of privilege. 

In high school, I was blessed with the chance to work with people in the heart of our nation’s capital from low economic backgrounds (many even homeless) all four years, and specifically with children my senior year. I learned a great deal from these experiences about racism in this country that we don’t see on television or talk nearly enough about. Without going into a history lesson, I learned about this cycle of poverty that has trapped people of color for many generations. This is due to laws, regulations, and funding that negatively impact our communities and harm us the moment we are born. I was fortunate to come from a family that does not suffer entirely from this cycle; I am middle-class and have attended private school my whole life. However, so many of us are never given a chance, and that is where I believe we have to do more. All of the children I worked with have the same goals and ambitions my friends and I had in private school at their age: professional athletes, astronauts, doctors, lawyers, etc. The sad reality is though, because of the poverty they were born into, they are already so far behind where I was at their age. It has nothing to do with intelligence either, because many of them are very bright. However, their schools and their neighborhoods don’t get the same amount of funding that public schools in suburbs all of 20-45 minutes away are getting. They don’t get on buses to go on field trips outside the city, let alone anywhere inside the city (and if they do it’s a real luxury). They deal with real trauma like hunger and violence that stems from their parents’ economic condition, something they had no control over. Because of it, many of them grow up and become trapped in the same cycle and pass it on to their own children. 

As an African American man in this country, I am not blind to the many injustices I am potentially subject to. As we’ve seen over the course of time, no amount of education or higher public access can save you from becoming a victim of racist and hateful acts. My point in writing this though is to hopefully encourage more people to dig deep into this issue and see that this goes beyond hateful acts we see out in the open. As African Americans at an institution of higher learning, many of us have experienced our own privilege that has gotten us to this point. It is our responsibility to take advantage of this blessing and continue to open doors for the people that look like us that have not had these same opportunities.  It is important that we turn out to vote not just in national elections, but in all our local elections so that we empower people with our best interests. It is key that we educate ourselves on these issues and work to get money into our schools and educate our youth so more of us can grow up and be in the positions to make decisions that affect our communities. I have seen an overwhelming amount of support for black causes and people over the last month. It is time to harness this energy into the next step that goes beyond protesting and signing petitions. It is time to learn and work to repair a system that has been broken for so long. Only in doing this will we create real change. 

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Olivia DeCrosta


Equality

As I get ready for school each morning, 

I look in the mirror and think, 

Am I good enough.  

Good enough to blend in. 

Blend in so when I walk into a school, 

Where the majority is white,  

They see me. 

See me for who I am. 

Not the color of my skin,  

Not as another minority, 

Not as poor or even as uneducated,  

But for them to see me as a human being. 

An equal.

An equal that has the same opportunities,  

The same family values. 

The same will and desire to succeed in life. 

And for all the fighting I have done, 

I am tired.

Tired of having my race define me. 

Tired of having people tell me how I should act. 

Tired of having to prove more in this world than others. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. did not work so hard,  

For African-Americans to still be treated unequally.

They say white people experience racism, too.  

But do they truly understand what racism is? 

Did they have their ancestors shipped to a country against their will? 

Where they were put in fields to work under unbearable conditions? 

To be beaten, raped, and killed? 

Were they treated as if they were property? 

Did they have laws to confine their whole race?

But as a whole race, we can come together.  

Show everyone just how powerful and united African-Americans can be. 

Show our children they are special because of their differences,  

And teach them to love themselves no matter what. 

Because being African-American should not be a stereotype, 

But a symbol.

A symbol to be proud of,  

A reminder of how much we have overcome not just as a race, 

But as a community. 

For that, I am truly honored to be African-American.

So when I come home from school 

And look in the mirror after a long day, 

I am good enough.

Because no matter what they see  

Or what they think of me, 

I am an African-American woman.