When I was 13 year old we had moved from Virginia to Pennsylvania. During the transition and going to school, I had my first encounter with racism.
I was in the top of my class and I always have been. The new school I was attending my twin, and another girl I’ll call her Chanel to protect her identity were the only kids of color. For me initially it wasn’t a big deal however over time it became problematic.
One day a girl I’ll call Shannon called me a nigger. I was shocked. She had no shame. When I went to the teacher he was no help. He didn’t seem surprised either. My name is LaToi. He called me Denise since LaToi is too ethnic. I was just taken back. I couldn’t wait to get home. As any parent they jumped into action and asked me numerous times what happened. I repeated the story. My parents immediately called the school and set up and appointment with the teacher and the principle.
When it came time for the meeting my parents sat there with such glare and their anger could be felt throughout the room. Another issue they had to deal with was the teacher changing my grade from an A to a D since I didn’t need the straight As I had gotten since 2nd grade.
Shannon also made the days at the school miserable for me and my twin. I hated going there for a little bit and school was the place I usually thrived. As a parent myself of a school age child I can’t imagine what was going through my parents mind. By the time the situation got handled my parents managed to have our local NAACP office involved to strengthen race relations in the school district. Even though my parents were heated they showed me how to take the high road and make a change.
Dear 13 year old LaToi,
You are upset no doubt at the experience that happened to you. Even with the years that will come later, race relations in America will not get better. As a young women you need to make sure that you stand on your principles and teach others around you to do the same. You can make any change that you wish but you must be the change you want to see.
Last year Shannon apologized to me through a mutual friends facebook. It was by far a defining moment for me. As my children grow the talk about race will have to be at the forefront of our home for their protection, etc.
Dr. King’s legacy lives in me and I plan on letting my light shine amongst my peers by my example and for speaking up against racism no matter what form it comes in.