It’s painful to feel joy right now. It’s even harder to celebrate any sense of accomplishment when the world is sick—in more ways than one.

Last week I graduated via Zoom from one of the most prestigious universities in America with Latin honors. The day before I stood in silence commemorating the lost lives of strangers murdered solely because they were the same race as me. During my finals week, I protested for the eradication of white supremacy.

I’ve confronted racism throughout my college career, but I naively thought the war for racial equality was over.

I figured the Civil Rights Movement was a finished chapter packaged and preserved in history books. I didn’t expect to be fighting the same battles as my elders, but I must because the work is unfinished. 

I just wanted to be a “college student” like my white peers. Instead, I ricocheted between being a student, diversity advocate, campus representative, and critical race educator. Black students are accustomed to setting aside our personal desires to get the job done. We must be exceptional just to be seen. We’re not allowed to be mediocre. To be mediocre is to be invisible, and to be invisible is to wither away in the cracks of the educational system. We’re constantly forced to show up. 

Class of 2020, we did it. We got the degree. Still, there is so much to be done.

My degrees won’t shield me from bullets if a cop feels threatened by my existence. They will not guarantee my economic upward ability. They will not ensure my salary is the same as my white or male peers. These two pieces of paper will not convince a white doctor the validity of my pain. They won’t have my back when a creep follows me around the block because my clothes were “asking for it.” My degrees are neither freedom papers nor get-out-of-jail-free cards. They are not tools to elevate my education in the classroom over my Black siblings who learned on the street.

They are an acknowledgement of my survival from an institution that was not built for me. They speak now for all the times I was silent. They reflect my professors cold calling me for every racial question in class and pressuring me to represent my entire race. My degrees are years’ worth of microaggressions, progress, loss, and joy. They mark my proficiency in code-switching and shape-shifting my Blackness to make people comfortable. These two pieces of paper symbolize the space occupied by Black students to make room for those yet to come.

Black lives must matter before Black education can matter. Our existence must matter before our successes are celebrated. Black college graduates are inherently radical. Whether we’re the first in our family to go to college or the continuation of a long legacy, Black excellence continues to be “exceptional” because the rest of the society refuses to acknowledge us as equal human beings. We’re still at the point where being #BlackAndHooded doesn’t stop cops from viewing a Black person as just another Black thug in a hoodie.  

Mainstream media marginalizes our successes and broadcasts our shortcomings. I’m tired of turning on the news and seeing “yet another Black man” committing a petty crime. I’m sick of people watching The Help and only consuming art that portrays Black enslavement.

I want the world to see Black people excelling—not underneath the knee of a police officer or in prison jumpsuits. 

Feature Photo: Little Rock Nine Attending Central High School (1957)

Ways You Can Help:

Donate: 

To the family and loved ones of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor

To my Semicolon Bookstore Campaign— supporting Black woman-owned businesses and Chicago youth and literacy.

Or, to an organization: The Bail Project, The Minnesota Freedom Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Communities United Against Police Brutality, and The American Civil Liberties Union

Protest:

If you participate in a local protest, make sure to take the following precautions and acknowledge city curfews— if they apply.

Contact your Congress Representative today

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4 thoughts on “Black Graduates Want Diplomas, Not Death Certificates

  1. I am moved to tears reading this.
    Your words have touched me so deeply because they are so true. Especially for someone so young. I am also saddened by the legacy we have left you at no fault of our own. I do have know that your writing will change this world!!

    Like

  2. Love the shape shift to make others feel comfortable. Great read, you indeed nailed it.🤗Sent from my Galaxy Tab® E

    Like

  3. You may not not it right now, but younglady you are the epitome of young, gifted and black. Gaining a double major from a prestigious “white” college in spite of the world’s ignorance to the young, gifted and black people is their loss. Continue to use your words to educate and make a difference and show the world being young, gifted and black is where it’s at. I am over-the-top with your accomplishments as a college student. Keep shining baby. God didn’t bring you this far. You are destined for greatness. Love mom.

    Like

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