So I did the presentation.
I got on the train, I traveled over an hour to the last stop on the S3, and I stood in front of 70 9th and 10th graders and told our story.
I’ve given this presentation a thousand times since I took the job last May. Technically, I’m the presenter for The Civil Rights Movement in America, but I think it’s more accurate to call my presentation the History of Black America and the #BlackLivesMatter Movement today… because ultimately, everything connects. And that’s all I want my students to walk away with 90 minutes later when I’ve finished.
So why was I so pissed yesterday when my boss emailed me that I would be presenting for 70 kids? In a nutshell, yeah, because 70 kids is ridiculous. This presentation has a specific energy and is meant for a maximum of 20 people. Because this is our story. Our story is already forced into 90 minutes even though our story is hundreds of years of nuance and complexity. Our story deserves explanations, definitions, tangents, anecdotes. Our story takes energy. Patience. Time. Language. To tell our story to 70 people who have never heard it before in a language that is not there mother-tongue felt like cheating. Cheating them, and cheating me. Cheating our ancestors. Cheating… what? So my institute can make another capitalist connection with another school? In my name and in the name of my siblings who have died so that I can… give this presentation?
And yet… say no… and everyone loses too.
I was completely exploited.
And pissed about it.
But I did the presentation.
I arrived in the middle of nowhere, and as those of you know, I don’t have a smartphone. Won’t get one either. So how does a girl with no smartphone find her way around unfamiliar terrain?
Oh, ya girl is old-school.
I had a map.
But it was on my computer. And my computer was dead. And the train station was so basic that there weren’t even OUTLETS!!!! I wish I was joking. So I walked into a cigarette shop and plugged my computer in so I could get the map up. Then I got yelled at by the shopkeeper for not asking to use the outlet. I wish I was joking.
When I loaded up to 3%, I wrote down the school address and walked up to the taxis. I got in the cab and the driver tried to talk to me. His German was so folky I could barely understand him. It was okay, but it was confirmation that I really really really really was in the absolute middle of nowhere.
All I could think was “What did I get myself into?”
I imagined how the school would be. 70 white faces staring blankly at me. Each one slowly buckling into white fragility as I spoke the stories of those whose names will never be known, enslaved by white colonizers. Justified by stereotypes promoted by white scientists, entertainers, and politicians. Mammys and Savages. Sarah Baartman. Harriet Tubman. Nat Turner. 250 slave revolts. The Civil War. Jim Crow. Emmett Till. Rosa Parks. Malcolm X. Affirmative Action. Mutations in the narrative. The Stereotypes. The oppression. And all those white faces looking back at me… apathetic. Or worse… giddy. Because some white woman in an office wants to make a capitalist connection for her white institute… named after one of the biggest racists of the 20th century!!!! (But I won’t say it or you’ll know where I work lol).
My blood boiled just thinking about it.
The story of my people is not for your entertainment, your capitalist affair, or to get you out of teaching your own fucking lessons!!!!!!!!
So when I walked into the classroom – ready – and saw 2 Black faces, my heart dropped.
I knew right then who this presentation was for. Fuck that one white ally I had been telling myself to imagine somewhere in the crowd. My siblings were there! And their sister from across the ocean was going to tell her story.
So I did.
And I have to say, for 70 students, it was like there were 20. At some moments, you could hear a pin drop and everyone understood that Black People in America are SURVIVORS. Black People in America are REVOLUTIONARIES. Black People in America MATTER!!!!! There is nothing like standing in front of a group of people and telling them our RESILIENCE AND RESISTANCE. To speak the names of those who have fallen. Emmett Till. Sandra Bland. Michael Brown. But to also speak the names of those who have risen and brought us with them! Harriet Tubman. Malcolm X. The Three Queer Black Women who started #BlackLivesMatter.
We are such a force to be reckoned with and everyone knows it. And I scream it for those playing like they don’t!
At the end of the presentation, people were crying. White tears. Give me dat money.
But one of the Afrogermans came up to me (I later learned the other was actually Brasilian and couldn’t speak any English… which I never would have guessed by the way he interacted with the pres). She thanked me for the presentation and said she found it really important. She could never know how much those words meant to me. Because I know that her story must also be one that could never be encompassed in 90 minutes. So I gave her my contact info and told her to come chill with her siblings in the city sometime. Or maybe we’ll go to her.
I really do feel like this job is so much more than my actual experience. I feel like my ancestors are with me every time. Guiding my words, giving me courage and energy. And today I really felt like, maybe they even guided me an hour away into the boondocks. Not just to tell our narrative, but to find our family so that we know in every corner of the earth WE ARE HERE. WE HAVE SURVIVED!