Four Malvern students shared stories of their experiences in an assembly sponsored by the Diversity Awareness Club on Thursday, April 6.
We need to work hard to make Malvern a truly inclusive community.
My story is not an uncommon one. The many black and other minority students that have come before me and those who will come after me all share experiences akin to mine. However, while my story may be common, it is still unique, as it is my story.
My name is Zamir Shelton, I’m a junior, and I’m black. For those who don’t know me very well, I’m what many would describe as being pro-black, and I believe that a lot of my actions revolve around that fact.
I participate heavily in the Diversity Awareness Club and have been blessed enough to be able to attend events like the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) and Springside Chestnut Hill’s diversity conference, SCHout. I am also grateful for the opportunity to lead middle schoolers as a facilitator at MSDLC.
Throughout all these wonderful events, one thing remained the same. I was embraced and welcomed by people who had no idea who I was, yet they listened and accepted my ideas and beliefs as if we had been friends for years.
These events made me feel like I was truly accepted and a part of a community. The majority of you can seek comfort in the fact that whenever you look around, you’ll see people that bear not only physical, but personal resemblance to you also. By this I’m talking about things like location, socioeconomic status/class, religion, and political affiliation. This is not a luxury that I, nor any other minority student at Malvern has, as often times we are the only person of color, in any given place.
Now, I’d like to tell you about my three years at Malvern. First, I must mention that before I went to Malvern, I attended St. Martin de Porres, which was a predominantly black middle school located in inner-city Philadelphia. This left me with no experience with white people my age.
Fast forward to freshman year. While I was excited to start my high school career at Malvern, I was more fearful than anything. I didn’t personally know any white kids, and I had misconceptions and biases towards white people, especially suburban white people. I wrongly believed that they were rich, snobby, and racist, something of which I was immediately proven wrong. When I attended the freshman orientation in August, I was greeted by white people whom I didn’t know, and many of them came up to me and became friends with me immediately.
However, there were things that highlighted the fact that I was different from my peers that still prevent me from establishing full bonds with my classmates.
The first and foremost thing is my name. My name is Zamir, which is correctly pronounced [ZAH]-[meer], but almost 99.1% (give or take) of the entire Malvern community pronounces my name as [zuh]-[MEER].
At first, I corrected people, but after a while it just got too tedious and I stopped bothering.
Second, any mention of black people or slavery merited expecting glances and stares that anticipated my reaction to what was being said. This is most noticeable in classes like U.S. History and my junior year Theology classes.
Third were the stereotypes of being black. They assumed I was unnaturally good at sports, and while this isn’t so negative, no stereotype is a good stereotype. I quickly disillusioned them in freshman gym class. I was also assumed to be unintelligent and lazy. These two stereotypes are amongst the most negative stereotypes about black people.
Finally, one of the most personally hurtful is the stereotype that black people are hostile and delinquent. I can’t count how many times in my life that I’ve been characterized as a criminal or a threat because of the color of my skin. Even at Malvern, I’ve had to earn the trust of my teachers and the school’s staff.
During my sophomore year, the Class of 2019 saw a huge increase in black students. However, I saw no significant increase in racial tolerance and acceptance. An unnamed sophomore friend has told me that one of his teachers calls him by the name of the other black students in the class. That happened this current year, but other than that, there was no other significant information.
My junior year, which I’m about to complete, has brought me plenty of new opportunities and experiences. I started participating more in the Diversity Awareness Club, which gave me the opportunity to go to several conferences and fully awaken my interest in diversity and inclusion.
Events like SDLC and SCHout made me feel more like a part of a community than I had anywhere else. The simple fact of seeing black people that are my age with experiences similar to mine made me feel more at ease than I did at my own school.
However, once it ended, I was back at Malvern, and I realized that if I ever want to feel like that again, we have to make Malvern a truly inclusive community.
In response to what I experienced at those events, I changed my perspective on things. I began to wear a black power fist that has spurred many opinions and questions from my classmates, but general approval from my teachers.
Sometimes, however, I feel like the teachers just go along with what I say because it’s easier for them than if they were to confront me on it.
I consider the first to be a critical piece of my identity, and wear it with pride every day.