The last day of my feminist theory course had arrived. After my professor had finished overviewing for the final exam she dismissed the class early. A few students left while a few others stayed behind. I was not in a rush to go anywhere so I chose to stay behind. Three other classmates -my classroom neighbors- chose to stay back as well. Two of them were females of European descent that I had never held a conversation with until this day, and the other was a Latino, male-friend of mine that I met via other mutual friends.
We all sat in the back of the classroom spending time chatting about where we were from, college experiences, college costs and plans for the future; after undergrad of course. Grad school was mentioned and I had expressed to my three classmates that I was interested in graduate school to further my studies. I was asked by one of the females, “how are you going to pay for grad school?” I had expressed that, because I am a student enrolled in the Educational Opportunity Program here at SUNY New Paltz, if I keep my GPA up, there is a possibility I could attend grad school with financial assistance from the Educational Opportunity Program. Without question, and without thinking, one of the females responded by stating, “I guess it pays to be Black sometimes huh?” She then went on to say, “I’m just kidding” and extended her hand out to me for a high-five.
I was in so much shock. I did not know how to respond to such ignorance. I extended my hand over and received the most awkward high-five ever. This was the reaction of the unconsciously peaceful person inside of me. While I was still processing what had just occurred, my Latino friend’s reaction was much more obvious than my own as he shouted, “OOOOHHHHH!” And crouched over as he held his arms close to his body. It was as if the bullets of those hateful words passed through me and pierced through his stomach.
After what was stated had been said, my classmates and I could not return to our once fruitful conversation. It had quickly turned sour. While the two females packed up and prepared to leave class, my Latino friend and I sat there in silence for a few. The air was thick and there was clearly some funny energy and tension.
My friend is familiar with my love for poetry. He quickly grabbed his laptop and began to search for an inspiring poem he had recently discovered on YouTube. The poem was titled “STRIVE” by Miles Hodges and Carvens Lissaint (a couple of young poets from NYC). From the title alone, you may be able to tell how much of a great pick-me-up this piece was for me in that moment.
Three minutes and twenty-one seconds had gone by. Within that time, I stored whatever it was that just happened in the back of my mind. I began to think of ways I could strive; strive to deter the myth that the Educational Opportunity Program only consists of low-income Black and Latino students; strive to prove to the world that it does not “pay to be Black;” strive to end white supremacy; strive to put a stop to racial and stereotypical jokes that are not funny; strive to continue to be a Black leader in Black communities; strive for future generations to not have to put up with such foolishness; strive for a change.
This comment, this day (December 6th 2013), this poem…has proven to me that my work is no where near done.