Joint winner, ages 12-14 short story category
Culture day. The dreaded day that comes around once a year during black history month. And going to school in the middle of Sunny Side while black history month is in full swing is hard in itself, and with the Black Lives Matter protests and all everyone is looking to me to guide the way. What with my flawless brown skin and my perfect grades all the school sees when they look at me is a perfect poster girl to show how “diverse” the school is. But for as many years as I can remember I have boycotted culture day like it was the Moscow 1980 Olympics. One nasty experience ruined that day for me and ever since I have conveniently had a doctor’s appointment on that day every year since.
We are supposed to bring in a dish for our country of origin and in year 3 I brought in curried goat and this was the best you could get your hands on, made by my mother, I was so proud of it and wanted everyone to try it, one of my classmates, Amelia took one look at my dish and went around telling everyone that I was trying to poison them all with my nasty food. I didn’t have the heart to tell my mum when I got home, I lied and told her that it went down a treat. I know it was wrong, but I didn’t want to hurt mum. It seemed unfair that just because one person lied and spoke badly on something, doesn’t mean that it should ruin a good thing.
But this year, things will change, the cold-blooded murder that goes on in the middle of streets across the world just because of the colour of your skin is killing me. It’s the same story each time, just a different name. The videos that get posted on the internet make me sick to my stomach. But there are so many out there that tell us that the colour of our skin shouldn’t make us scared to walk around our neighbourhood with our hoods up, like Trayvon Martin. Or be worried that we will be falsely accused of something that we didn’t do like Emmet Till. But we should embrace the melanin that is set deep in our blood and know that we can do great things with it like Barack Obama. We should be confident to sway our curvy hips from side to side; put as much lip gloss as we want on our full lips and embrace our culture, our melanin and our voices, and show all of the people that we can be great and one day they may be looking to us for guidance and look to us a leaders and role models.
Mum could see that I couldn’t understand my culture on the level that I would like to so she took me to this amazing museum all about black history and the beauty of it. I learn so much that I wouldn’t have ever known if I didn’t have any interest in it. For instance, the braids that are so tight they are pulling my thoughts out, my ancestors, who were enslaved, would have used braids as maps to escape the hell that they were living in. The beauty all around me was overwhelming. I could see beautiful black faces all smiling around me showing me that all would be well. There were so many stories on the walls that made me so proud to be black:
Katherine Johnson. Overcame all obstacles that she faced to make her way to the top and show NASA that they needed her just as much as they needed the white men around her, her calculations helped so much to get men safely to the moon in Apollo 11, she persisted and never left until the work ahead of her was done to the best standard that it could be at. A role model that should be honoured to this day. Katherine Johnson. Hear her voice.
Usain Bolt. Came from Jamaica and trained harder than all his peers and even when he was put down by others and told that he couldn’t achieve his dream. To make it to the olympics. He faced such large setbacks, such as being told that his scoliosis would stop him from competing at a large-scale level, he still defied all odds and became the fastest man on the planet. Usain Bolt. Hear his voice.
Harriet Tubman. Risked her life so many times for the sake of others, wanted others to have a free life even if that meant that by the end of her efforts she would still be enslaved, she led men, women and children to safety through the underground railroad and ensured that they would lead a much better life that the one that they were previously trapped in. She also served as a scout, spy and guerrilla soldier from the civil war. Harriet Tubman. Hear her voice.
Michelle Obama. Became a lawyer and graduated top of her class, she then became a mother to two children and cared for them all while her husband was becoming the first black president. And she became the first black first lady. Both Barack and Michelle Obama have given so much to change both during and after they accommodated the white house. Michelle Obama. Hear her voice.
Rosa Parks. She stood, well rather sat, her ground and although she lived during a time when black people were seen as vermin and were made to use separate bathrooms, drink from separate water fountains, and sit at different ends of the bus, Rosa made sure to make a small difference to the world she was born into. Rosa Parks. Hear her voice.
Martin Luther King Jr. Told us that one day he dreamt that we would live in harmony and as one. And although we haven’t achieved his dream fully, we all know that even if it is many generations down from us it will happen. Although Martin gained his wings in the horrifying way that he did, his dream still lives within us. Martin Luther King Jr. Hear his voice.
It was the experience of a lifetime, I walked out of that building a different person, it opened my eyes to so many more things, I could see the world in a completely different way. My mother wasn’t surprised, she told me that 30 years ago her mother took her to the same gallery, and that although many more people had been added it still had an exhilarating effect on her. I understood, she knew that all it took was to see people that look like me celebrated rather than suppressed. She was right. I feel overwhelmed seeing all of those people, so many that I didn’t know about. It showed me that even when people try to put obstacles in my way, all I have to do is break them down and show them that they will have to try a lot harder to break my melanin armour.
As soon as I got home that evening I put all of my feelings onto the page:
Sometimes it’s hard to find yourself,
When you’re searching in a lost world.
This noise is often so blinding,
And bright lights so deafening.
It’s easy to confuse you senses from scents,
They remind you of times past…
Times better left in sweet amnesia,
But you remember to breathe.
You live to learn from the pain,
And find that which brings you to the present.
For it is only in those silent moments,
Where you ever truly find yourself.
The silence inside the gallery was so still that I could almost hear the voices of the black kings and queens on the walls whisper in my ear telling me that all the effort they went through will help me to leave the world in a better condition that I found it. I found myself in the silence and I unlocked the black beauty from within. It was always there. I just didn’t know how to harness it and use it to my advantage. To see it as a blessing, and not as a curse. I realise that although all people will see when they look at me may be the colour of my skin, if I use my voice people will see beneath that to who I am, but if they say colour doesn’t matter to them, then they do not see me, because if they don’t see my blackness then they don’t truly see me.
My ancestors have fought so hard and overcome so many battles just so that I can live the life that I live, and no one can tell me that the culture set deep within me is beautiful and if people don’t understand, we can educate them through stories, pictures, songs and food.
The dishes and recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation, altered slightly here and there, my family providing the way for me to teach my children about culture and who we are through the spices and tastes that they experience.
So, I have decided to make the best curry goat ever in the history of the world with the best mentor, my mother. Because people just need to deal with it. This is me. Here’s my voice.