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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Reflections of an African American teenager

Tajari Jones  (Courtesy)
By Tajari Jones

Every Spokane teen has their own story of growing up, facing challenges and working to match or beat expectations. Now add the complicating factors of being a Black high school student in a city that is often welcoming, but overwhelmingly white. In today’s Serendipity section, The Spokesman-Review shares essays and a poem by six such young people. Each of their stories brings a different perspective. And yet each of them expresses a yearning for acceptance and respect.

Many people try to get a grasp on what it is like to be a Black American, let alone a Black student. Being a Black student has its challenges and disadvantages, but it also has many highs.

One of the challenges of being an African American student is that when we have lessons on Black history, other kids look at us as if history is something we need sympathy for. What we need is empathy, not sympathy. We want others to consider why we feel the way we feel about some of the negative experiences that happened in the past. We just want genuine understanding. We don’t want history to define us, but we also don’t want to forget our past. Without history, we would not be where we are today.

Frederick Douglass once said, “Without struggle, there is no progress.” Although there are some trials and tribulations in being an African American, we can educate people who are willing to learn about our reactions and responses. Being able to educate someone on information they might be lacking makes me feel good.

Understanding the struggle and journey of African Americans in this nation is something not everyone gets. When I try to explain, for instance, how it’s been historically challenging, I have heard it said that “everyone has a struggle.” No struggle is bigger than the other, however, I do not think all struggles can be compared. I do think it’s easy for some to dismiss racism because they have not experienced it, or they don’t understand it. This makes me feel like they are trying to belittle the fact that it happened. If oppression was not a real thing, then we would not have many present-day issues.

In all my years of school, I have never had an African American teacher. Having a teacher with the same culture as me can affirm some of the things that we go through. When we are in class and the topic of social justice comes up, having a teacher who relates to race is important, so I won’t feel alone in the discussion. When I don’t see much diversity in schools, I feel outnumbered. Oftentimes, I’m one of few African American kids in my class. If you have not walked in someone else’s shoes who is not represented in some places, it’s a real struggle. Having teachers who understand race relations and social justice is beneficial in many ways.

Growing up as a Black student in Spokane creates opportunities to help others learn, those who are willing to learn. I can show a reflection of my culture that they might not expect. It’s also a chance to challenge stereotypes people might have in their mind or just may assume. It gives me a chance to have conversations with others and explain our experiences. Discussions create a place where an understanding can be made. Maya Angelou once said, “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it.”

As an African American girl, I see myself as a strong-minded, passionate person. I will always look at my African American ethnicity as a part of who I am. I believe that I can change things I don’t like even if the whole world is against me. I think that those who came before are so strong and brave. Knowing there are many African Americans who have contributed to our country gives me a sense of joy and happiness because we are doing what we can to change the world for the better. When I think of African Americans who crushed barriers, Annie Malone and Madam C.J. Walker inspire me. They showed what was possible and did not buckle under racism. These women created cosmetology empires; this shows me what I am capable of. I will use them as examples in pursuit of my future success. We can be great even despite difficulties.

The one thing I would like to do is crush stereotypes. This is so important to me because stereotypes have many negative effects. Stereotypes bring a lot of people down because it changes the perceptions others have of them, and they can also harm people’s view of themselves. There are many obstacles in getting what you know your community needs and not everyone is on board. Even though there are challenges in the skin I’m in, I’ll never be afraid to embrace it.

Tajari Jones is a sophomore at Shadle Park High School. She likes to read and binge watch her favorite TV shows. She can be reached at