[Editor’s note: The Chronicle is delighted to welcome H-F High School student and activist Jade Greear to our group of contributors. She also has her own blog at unconventionallyjade.com.]
I, like everybody else in my family and circle of friends, love America. And like anything we love, we have a duty to hold it — and each other — accountable. We have an individual and collective responsibility to raise our voices.
Youth, however, don’t always have the opportunity or platform from which to do so.
As part of Homewood-Flossmoor High School’s Spirit Week that culminated in our homecoming festivities, Tuesday, Sept. 15, was designated Patriotic Day. Students were encouraged to wear red, white and blue.
A number of my fellow students and I chose to wear all black.
It all began with a tweet by my friend and fellow H-F senior, Alex Myrick, when on the eve of Patriotic Day she tweeted “Wear all black tomorrow.”
The idea was propelled by another friend of mine, senior Brittany Henry, who dubbed her tweet “Blackout 9/15.”
In less than 140 characters, a movement began.
Through the power of social media, word quickly spread. Within less than two hours it seemed as if the entire student population knew our plan and, importantly, the reasons why we were doing it. “Blackout 9/15” elicited approximately 100 tweets from 54 people, reaching more than 60,000 Twitter accounts!
Every person who participated in Blackout 9/15 had specific reasons why they chose to participate, many expressing themselves via T-shirts that conveyed messages like “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Excellence.”
I did it for my cousin, Marcus Doty, who was unarmed and unjustifiably killed earlier this year by St. Paul, Minn. police officers.
Blacks killed during encounters with police are twice as likely to be unarmed as their white peers, according to a recent report in The Guardian.
I did it because of the struggle it takes for society to recognize black excellence. Nielsen reports that the rate of black high school graduates enrolled in college increased in 2014 to 70.9 percent — higher than all high-school graduates in the nation — yet the narrative consistently told is about the lack of education and achievement in the black community.
I did it for my town because even though we are fortunate to live in a diverse community where opportunities abound for young people to thrive, we are not immune from the scourge of overt or covert racism.
I did it for myself and for my little brother, because our blackness is not something to disparage or rise above, rather something to embrace and wear with pride.
What struck me during Blackout 9/15 was the dialogue it spurred with students and teachers alike. People of all races approached me throughout the day and asked for clarification about it. Didn’t we love our country? Don’t we think all lives matter?
While it was hard to explain it to them in the time we had at lunch or between classes, I was encouraged. I knew that if people were even asking what it was, we were making a point and a difference.
Of course, there were many people who voiced their opposition to our movement and simply didn’t want to take the time to listen to, or try to understand, why we felt it was necessary.
The important thing is that Blackout 9/15 started a conversation. I’m hopeful that it will continue and that, as a community, just as we support the unique need for ovarian cancer awareness month in September without discounting the importance of addressing other types of cancer, we can support that black lives matter without discounting the fact that all lives matter.
Each Blackout 9/15 participant took a step towards creating systemic and transformative social change. What will your next step be?
Black Americans killed by police twice as likely to be unarmed as white people (The Guardian, June 1, 2015)
Nielsen: African-Americans Upending Stereotypes in Education, Income, Media and More (PR Newswire, Sept. 17, 2015)