For those who read our online and front-page article in which Black teens reflected on growing up in Carroll, it was an opportunity for understanding and learning, at least for anyone willing to move out of their comfort zones and consider the way those who don’t look like them feel about the treatment they sometimes receive within our community.
The six Carroll County high school students and one recent high school graduate we spoke to did not profess to speak for all African American students, they just told personal stories, giving light to some of their experiences, a courageous thing to do in a county and school system in which not even 4% of the population is Black. A few hundred online comments reacting to the article, not so much hateful as dismissive, more than validated what they had to say.
Living in Carroll County, second in Maryland only to Garrett County in terms of fewest African American residents, is not always easy, particularly during the formative years when fitting in is both difficult and crucial. The teens described what they’ve faced, citing examples ranging from microagressions to unintentionally offensive behavior to flat-out racism.
Slights. Stares. Isolation. Name-calling. Jokes. Cynthia Winn, a junior at Westminster High School, told us it doesn’t feel like people mean to hurt her. Instead, she thinks it just comes down to ignorance.
Students, parents and personnel within Carroll County Public Schools can benefit from what these teens have to say about what they’ve been through and how they’ve been made to feel, as well as their suggestions about what can be done.
Of course, many of the situations the teens find themselves in and the problems they face are not confined to Carroll.
Kelechukwu Ahulamibe, a Century graduate who attends the University of Maryland, noted that Black males, in particular, feel as they’re “walking on glass,” believing they are in danger not only of being the target of violence but the target of suspicion. “We all have to live by these certain rules and regulations in order to avoid the speculation of we’re doing something bad,” he said.
Several of the teens moved to Carroll County from more diverse areas and initially tried to disguise their true feelings and appearances to fit in better. Through support they’ve received from family and friends and school groups, their self-esteem is higher than ever, they’ve come to embrace who they are and understand what they’re sometimes going to be up against.
Ahulamibe remains connected to Century’s Black Student Union and has advice for its current members, and for anyone.
“Those people that are wanting you to fail, you have to prove those people wrong, no matter what. You have to prove to yourself that you’re more than just a statistic,” he said. “You are a human being, and you can do anything you can put your mind to. Because you’re special.”
And maybe help the majority-white student population gain a little understanding along the way.
Said Westminster High School freshman Jamil Yacoubou: “I got to the point where I finally realized, like, if I don’t stand up for myself, they’re not going to learn.”
Obviously, not everyone wants to learn. Many of the online commenters dismissed the teens’ feelings and expressed dismay that we would give them a forum. Many other commenters, however, rebuked such talk.
Inside or outside Carroll, change isn’t happening fast enough. But it is happening. And young people like the ones we talked to for this article are both helping to make it happen and showing others why it needs to.