I’m writing in response to your recent article “Young activists build movement for social change in Montgomery County.” I’m a rising 10th grader in Abington, Pennsylvania and I can’t think of a more important fight than that of racial equality and social justice in my lifetime. The Movement for Black and Brown Lives in Montgomery County is necessary. We are in the fight of our lives. It’s outrageous to think it's happened again. Another Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot by police. After Breonna Taylor’s death, I thought we’d had enough. After the world watched George Floyd die kneeled on for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, I thought we’d see change. After BLM grew stronger and people stood with us, I thought life would be different, but here we are. But I don’t have to go to Wisconsin to see racism and injustice. I’ve experienced it right here.

At my school, although I was a good student, my mom had to fight for me to be in honors classes; my teachers didn’t think I could handle them. I’m not the only one. Although there are a lot of Black and brown people at the junior high, our advanced classes are not diverse. Unbelievably, another student said “you’re Black. Why are you in the honors classes?” I’ve done well in my classes and I’m sure many more students could if teachers or counselors believed they could and recommended them for them.

And it’s not just the teachers. I don’t know why, but a lot of white people at the school think it is appropriate to say the n-word just because they say they have Black people that they call friends. They say it in school and on social media. They should be taught how hurtful this is and punished for it, Not just a detention, but real lessons on why this is not appropriate at all.

And this is on top of living while Black. Whenever I go to the mall, I love visit the Champs Sports to see the latest shoes. What I don’t like is the racial profiling I have experienced once when I went into the store. I was in there for a long time and I know you have to buy something, but one of the workers got the manager and started yelling at me and accused me of stealing. I would never do such a thing. I have high standards and I don’t want that on my record because I am meant for big things. But they didn’t know or think about that. They just saw a Black girl in a store looking around for too long and thought I must be doing something wrong.

Living shouldn’t make you angry. But I am. I am angry that the perception is that I am a poor student instead of one likely to succeed. I’m angry that students get away with saying racist things without being punished for it. I’m angry that a trip to the store turned into a yelling match when I did nothing wrong.

If ever there was a time for the adults in this world to do something IT IS NOW. So here’s my challenge to you: stop saying Black Lives Matter and start acting like they do by:

1. Supporting organizations like the Movement; diversity improves communities.

2. Not just getting mad when you hear that too many Black and brown students go to underfunded schools. Tell your state legislators to adopt a budget in June that actually funds them equitably.

3. Ask your kids if there are many Black and brown kids in your child’s gifted, honors, and AP classes. They will tell you no. We are as smart as they are, but we are losing out. Talk to principals, teachers and counselors about their plans to include students of color in these classes and support for us when we get there. It’s hard to be the only kid of color in class after class when your classmates think you are there by mistake.

4. If you are saying the n-word, stop right now. No Black person is ok with that. And your kids are doing it too. It’s not ok for them either. Call us by our names. 

5. Learning more. We want to learn about our history and share it with our classmates, not just in February, but every day. So many Black and brown people have contributed to American history. Because you don’t know that, you see us as former slaves, the people who drank from different fountains, the singers and dancers of history -- not the inventors, scientists, artists, professionals or politicians who actually helped to make this country great in the first place. Since you adults don’t know enough of America’s history or understand and you can’t see us as the next generation of leaders. With classes that include our history, your children won’t make the same mistake.

6. Finally, stop looking at us like we are criminals. We are not perfect. But, no one is. I’ve never done anything illegal in my life. I’m guessing your kid hasn’t either. If you can’t imagine your child as a criminal, you should know my mom can’t imagine me that way either. But, it’s embarrassing to be followed around a store like you are.

I know this year has been hard. Now, imagine that in addition you’ve gotten threats on Instagram, people telling you, you should die, and that you’ve lost a bunch of followers because of the support you put on your story for BLM. That’s how my year has gone.

That’s not how it has to end.

I will not stop until we get justice. If it means that I will lose more followers, fine -- I know right from wrong. Being Black is hard, but it shouldn’t be. If you don’t know what it’s like, don’t be the problem, be the solution.

Black and brown students right here need your help. I am one of them. I have faith in you. Please don’t prove me wrong.

Autumn Smith

Huntingdon Valley

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