Features Magazine Volume 70, Issue 7

Student Forum: Black Excellence and Hardship

By Ally Hoogs

Diversify Our Narrative, a Las Lomas club, has started a monthly student forum streamed via youtube to bring the thoughts and feelings of student panelists out into the community. The idea behind this forum is to foster good conversations between students in the district on the lack of diversity and representation in the curriculum. These forums started in February, bringing in students from all over the district to converse on the central topic of that month’s inclusivity discussion. The forum is moderated by student members of Diversify Our Narrative and can include district teachers who wish to share their experiences as well. 

February’s forum, the first of the planned monthly discussions, talked about Black Excellence and Hardship. The topic brought in the voices and experiences of Black students in the district and began direct conversations about privilege, racism, and what being Black personally means to black students and teachers. Diversify Our Narrative members Sara Valbuena and Dina Mirmotalebisohi, both Las Lomas students, moderated the conversation. All quotes in this article are from the panelists and taken during the discussion.

One of the first topics panelists were asked was their opinions on the idea of Black Excellence and how those ideas have impacted panelists personally. Acalanes Center for Independent Study (ACIS) teacher Therron Adams started by saying, “The amount of pressure that you have to be great is so overwhelming, where it almost crushes you. So if you’re only good, then that’s not great, and that’s my issue with Black Excellence.” He emphasized, “It’s okay to be good, it’s okay to be okay. It’s okay to be you, and go at the rate at which you progress and you can make yourself a better person.”

Las Lomas junior Nick Alfred explained his view on the idea as well: “Black excellence means to me that it demonstrates prowess under the influence of bias and prejudice on individuals with Black skin.” He mentioned, “I’m a strong advocate of representing Black excellence in history, especially because it shouldn’t always be just hardships, hardships, hardships. That’s the danger of the single story, developing the notion that all the Black people did was just be the victim. Examples of excellence must always be shown.”

When the panelists were later asked about the media’s portrayal of Black people, Alfred added, “With especially Black boys: they’re often perceived as intimidating or aggressive and I’d like to put emphasis on the intimidating part. You have to be really welcoming sometimes just to get somebody to shake your hand.”

Another question asked was what it is like being in a predominantly white school and how it has affected their mental health and experiences. Miramonte senior Zion Mayo explained, “Making a mental shift into a more digestible persona to fit in became very draining.” Las Lomas junior Gabrielle Alfred added to the discussion her experience in Walnut Creek, “I remember one time in sixth grade I was at that point where I was assimilated because of having grown up in a mostly white area. I thought that if I bathed in cold water I would turn white or that I was dirty because I was Black.” She continues to recall, “I would put my hair under hot water to try and make it straight. I assimilated but then there would be microaggressions that would make me realize that I was different.”

The media’s portrayal of Black people also brought up the discussion of the standards of beauty they are held to. Haloniee Dangerfield, a Las Lomas sophomore, described, “I thought that I wasn’t the beauty standard for a lot of people. I was not happy with myself at all.” She mentioned that hurtful stereotypes, standards, and the portrayal of Black people in the media are harmful to both her self-esteem and how Black people are viewed as a whole. She commented, “[Some] stereotypes against Black people in every single movie I’ve seen is that Black people have to have all these hardships and have to be broke and living in the hood. I think the stuff that we put out in the media does create stereotypes and has affected how I’ve viewed myself.”

Mirmotalebisohi explained that the discussions “provide a protected platform for students to share out on experiences they may not have been given the chance to do so beforehand,” or topics that have been ignored “and be completely insensitive towards… students as well as faculty members.” Mirmotalebisohi added that the forums are good ways to incite change and force people to go out of their comfort zones to make large-scale changes to school campuses and the curriculum.

Diversify Our Narrative member and senior, Mia Hanson, describes that the club aims to better represent BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), LGBTQ+ communities, and people with disabilities in our schools’ curriculums through adding more inclusive textbooks and planning school events like the forums.