Why Black History Matters To Me

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I’ll never forget  February 2008, at my all girls catholic school in Los Angeles, CA. My middle school wanted to be “inclusive” so they renamed black history month to “multicultural month”. As a 13 year old black girl who went to a predominately white school, I felt like I was the only one yelling “Black Lives Matter!” while my ruler whipping nun of a principle was yelling ” Well, all lives matter!”. Back then, I felt I couldn’t change the 15 year old tradition of my schools “multicultural month”, but I knew I could change perspective with words. I rushed home after basketball practice on February 1 and bolted into my mothers bathroom. She was ecstatic to hear about my day but I was just ready to tell her about how my crazy catholic school really renamed black history month. I thought she would be ready to be my accomplice and march up to my school the next day to speak to the principal about this preposterous notion, but all she said was “look up Sojourner Truth”.

Sojourner Truth was a black female abolitionist, civil rights leader, and women’s rights advocate, who is best known for her speech “Ain’t I a Woman?”. After my mother said her name, I did tons of research on her. I read her memoir, books, and multiple sources. She was so cool to me because she spoke dutch, made her way out slavery, and led her people to freedom. My 13 year old self became so obsessed that I started dreaming of conversations between the two of us. At the end of February, my school held a multicultural potluck for the students and their families. The students were allowed to bring in foods from their culture and make speeches. Only 5 girls in the entire middle school signed up to make a speech and I made sure I was one of them.

The day of the potluck my mom had to catch a flight for a speaking engagement, but she made sure I looked good and went to school with the best Jamaican fried plantains. My mom is talented when it comes down to motherly costume design. Between 6:45 AM to 7:30 AM my mom took the time to transform me into looking like Sojourner Truth. She slobbered a big ole kiss on my face and said “Baby, today is the day you speak your truth!”.  At 10AM, I walked into my school gymnasium with 200 of my school mates and their family members. I waited for my care taker Ms. Mae, who is like my second mother, to bring my fresh plantains to school and tell me that I could do this speech. At noon, I began making my way to the stage podium. My heart began to race and my hands started to shake, but as I looked in the audience, Ms. Mae was entering the gym with the plantains and she had the biggest smile on her face. I left the podium, took center stage and began reciting Sojourner Truth’s speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?”. I felt like I was Sojourner leading men, women, and children to freedom, declaring my rights, and speaking my absolute truth. After my speech the entire gymnasium was on their feet roaring, clapping, and whistling at me. I walked down to the floor level with a huge smile on my face, knowing that I killed my speech and ready to eat Ms. Mae’s plantains.  An older white gentleman, that was freakishly tall, tapped me on my shoulder, shook my hand, looked me in my eyes and said ” you are powerful, that was powerful, and thank you for teaching me”. I looked him in his eyes and said ” thank you”, knowing that my BLACK HISTORY MATTERS!

xoxo,

Ivy Coco

Photographed by Castle

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