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These past couple weeks have been a lot, globally! Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock you know what’s happened. We all have our part to do during this time to ensure change truly does occur. I know part of my activism is speaking truth to power. For this week’s Truth Tuesday I want to talk to you about growing up in a small southern racist town and how the school system failed me.
First, let me give you a little background. I grew up in a small town in Tennessee called Union City. Its population is about 10,000 people with 70% white and 20% black. I dare say the system is broken, because I’m positive it helps those it was built to help. The problem lies when you have educators that are either racist or won’t speak up for what’s right. I’m all about giving people the credit they deserve so today I’d like to spotlight two of the MANY educators that did nothing for black lives at UCHS.
During my four years of high school I had three principals. There is no doubt that the worst one was Mr Towater. My Freshman year I asked him about a black history month program. He said I contacted him too late, but it was important that students knew about people like Rosa Harris (yep, Harris not Parks). He said I could put posters in the library. The library was in a position that made it very difficult to see the pictures unless you walked downstairs. I took what I could get, but I never forgot his reckless actions and pure ignorance. But, the lesson I learned was just because someone holds a certain title doesn’t mean they will use their authority to help everyone equally. As leadership changed I was able to put together Black History Month programs. The thing is a teenager shouldn’t have been the one to put it together. The school system should’ve already had it in place. Jim, come get your credit!
Next, I’d like to give credit to Mr Duncan. He was a coach and somehow over the student council. I approached him about a school tshirt with only white kids on it. I asked why weren’t there any black kids. He said the student council voted on the shirts. I told him that’s why the council needed to be diverse so there was someone in the meetings to give a different point of view. He started to cry and told me he wasn’t racist. From him I learned two things. Racist people will use their fragility and fake tears to try and make you feel bad (I didn’t, I laughed at him). I also learned REPRENTATION MATTERS! We needed to see someone that looked like us on that shirt in order to make use feel included in the school. Later that year he showed me a shirt with a black and white couple. He tried to give me one and I told him I don’t even like tshirts. The point was I felt like black kids weren’t represented. Barry, come get your credit!
As a bonus, I’d like to tell you how an 18 year old me walked into an interview for a Rotary Scholarship. The interview went well until the end and the all white panel asked if I had anything to add. I said yes, this school system is racist and I’m glad this is my last year. Their jaws dropped. As I walked out I said “bye scholarship”, but I felt great because I spoke truth to power. In 2013 I decided to present a scholarship to a graduating minority from my high school. In 2014 I decided to give two scholarships. The guidance counselor said I wasn’t getting too many applicants so she wanted to know if I would open it to non-minorities. The lesson learned from this, I don’t have to go through the school to help students. Also, folks will try and Christopher Columbus your hard work. DON’T LET THEM! Winnie Logan, come get your credit!
Growing up in a small southern racist town I saw, heard and experienced plenty of racism. The school system that was supposed to educate and nurture all students made obvious differences due to race. All the educators didn’t care about black lives. I was labeled a trouble maker and later learned that was microaggression (look it up). I know you’re thinking hey Sheena maybe that was just your experiences and why are you bringing this up now. I wish I could say that it was just me but I know for a fact it wasn’t. I knew I was being educated by racist or by people too afraid to speak up. This isn’t my first time speaking on it and it won’t be my last. I will continue to speak truth to power! Sometimes people in a situation need to know they’re not alone but also know they can overcome it. Racism comes in many forms and flavors. It’s not just police brutality. It’s also educators keeping their knees on the necks of black children because they’re trying to stifle their excellence. They tried, but it didn’t work on me, and I vow to make sure it doesn’t continue to happen to others.
If I call something out, then I try my best to come up with a solution. Just know I’m working on something for the community. Please contact me because I’m going to need help!
Until next time my loves…
Oh, and don’t forget BLACK LIVES MATTER even in small southern racist towns!
Loved reading this. Thanks so much for sharing.
Thank you so much! ❤️
If anyone tells you, “hey Sheena maybe that was just your experience” you can’t point them to me. As a white female growing up in the same town, believe me, I saw the things you are talking about. At the time, I was too self-absorbed to pay attention, and probably would have been afraid to speak up if I had. I tend to try to avoid conflict, and even though I grew up to know better, even until recently I avoided speaking up when I saw something wrong. I really do believe that actions speak louder than words, but I’ve also used that as an excuse to stay silent for too long.
Edit: can point them to me.
I couldn’t figure out how edit the comment from my phone.
Thank you so much! I know you’re teaching your children not to be this way and that’s appreciated.
I choked on my morning coffee when I came to the part you told that panel a piece of your mind. I love your passion for change. I’ve been following you for a minute & this is nothing new black lives always mattered to you.
Thank you for sharing your story! I‘m so glad you didn’t let your experience break you.
LOL!!! I was thinking tell the truth or get this money. Truth won!!!
As always Sheena, THANK YOU for sharing your truth. I’ve definitely experienced similar situations once I’ve moved to the South. I’m happy that you didn’t back down. This is a great reminder for us to continue to push through, there is power in speaking truth!
I’m so sorry you had to experience this but I’m happy you overcame it my friend ❤️
Girl I’ve been waiting for Tuesday like nobody’s business and you never disappoint. Thanks for sharing this. I’m sorry you had this experience but I’m applaud you so be so forward thinking at such a young age. It certainly wasn’t your job to come up with programming for BHM that whole administration needs to be ashamed of themselves.
Wow, I know about Union City 🌃 I actually have friends there, and believe it or not, one of my friends is named Sheena. What a coincidence. Racism is certainly a wicked trait. And sadly, those consistent micro aggressions can lead to underlying stress and feelings of inferiority.
This was a great post. And kudos to you being so young and standing up for what’s right. And offering scholarships. So good. Thanks for sharing.
Looking back like this can really help others. I can think of so many microaggressions I experienced in school and work that will stay with me forever.