Black Stories Matter: Recognizing Voices From Campus

Black Stories Matter: Recognizing Voices From Campus

In honor of Black History Month, we wish to highlight and recognize black voices from the NJIT community speaking up about their experiences. Black Lives Matter. Black Stories Matter.

We asked members of our community, what does it mean to be black in America?

A lot of the things that we have to endure are coming to light and the system that is so flawed is being brought to justice.

Tristan Parker, senior mechanical engineering major

“Living as a black man in America is a reality that the country and world is being forced to realize. A lot of the things that we have to endure are coming to light and the system that is so flawed is being brought to justice. Growing up in South Florida, many of the things I thought were normal would shock most people. I thought it was normal to exercise increased caution around white people, because I was invading “their space”, wherever it was. I thought it was normal to expect people to stereotype me openly and without shame, never having said a word to me. I remember the day my dad taught me how to be stopped by police. He told me, “Roll down all your windows, turn the lights on, have your license and registration on the dashboard, and don’t move your hands from the wheel. 

This was 4 years after we watched Trayvon Martin’s killer get off free. This was before it was popular to acknowledge and change the American black experience. So to me, it was normal.

I don’t say this to receive pity but rather to show that black people live a very different reality from the rest of the country. Now it’s up to us to change that and make sure we are treated equally.” – Tristan Parker, senior mechanical engineering major

It’s little things like these that add up to the bigger picture: black people in this country and in this world deserve justice, full acceptance, and equality.

Anonymous NJIT student

“What being black in America means to me is an automatic sign of strength. Living in a system that was built by us, yet not for us, with somewhere around half the US population not understanding why we’re protesting. People don’t understand that the model minority didn’t build this country, but rather infiltrated it in order to preserve the systemic racism that’s continued till this day. As someone who’s multiracial and basically ambiguously black, my experiences are very micro and different compared to my friends and family that are more obviously black. The hate that I experience only really stems from home from my own Philippines-born mother. She’s tried to make me and my siblings appear as nonblack as possible since birth, to the point where my oldest sister passes as white. But as someone who is black but isn’t always seen as black, I see it all. I see my friends and family that “fit the description” more being harassed for things that I never get harassed about. Black girls in my high school always getting dress coded and sexualized while it was never a problem for the white girls to show extra skin. Getting pulled over with my friends and having the cops search them (and REALLY search them) but not me. It’s little things like these that add up to the bigger picture: black people in this country and in this world deserve justice, full acceptance, and equality. We shouldn’t need to change our features nor our mannerisms because we are NOT inherently bad. Black people deserve to express their culture, their passions, their fears, their truths, and have their voices heard in every case. Black people deserve to have every opportunity that anyone else can have. It’s the racism that’s propagated within our society that convinces the masses that black people are something to fear or something to hate, while in actuality, every day black people have to live in fear of whether or not they’ll even make it home. Being black means having tougher skin, and carrying a society that doesn’t care about us or protect us, but should. Because without us, America as we know it today wouldn’t even be here.” – Anonyous NJIT student

…conveniently obscures the true, historical purpose of race in America: to distinguish ‘them’ from ‘us.’

Ty’rese Hutcheson, junior computer science major

“To be Black in America is to eventually learn that the American ‘melting pot’–where people of all colors, cultures, and backgrounds are recognized and appreciated for their contributions to the united whole–is a myth. It conveniently obscures the true, historical purpose of race in America: to distinguish ‘them’ from ‘us.'” – Ty’rese Hutcheson, junior computer science major

I was raised on the belief that nobody should be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Richard Woods, senior applied mathematics major

What it means to be a Black citizen in America has been different to me in the different stages of my life. When I was a kid, I was raised on the belief that nobody should be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character (yes I was raised on the main message spoken by Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.). So I followed those principles and still follow those principles. Since I am half Puerto Rican and lived with my mom growing up, I was always surrounded by my Hispanic roots more so than my African-American roots. However, I did end up identifying more with my Black roots than anything (possibly to try and differentiate myself from my peers). In this stage of my life, being Black in a primarily Hispanic neighborhood leads to mostly funny moments and no significant moments of racism (besides the rare instance of a poor taste Black joke). My perspective of being a Black citizen started to change once I started high school.

I started meeting people who started calling me White because I spoke more eloquently than the stereotypical Black man and I didn’t wear the stereotypical clothing. At first it didn’t bother me, but over time it started feeling like my intelligence and somewhat respectful and professional behavior towards others was being used against me. It felt like I wasn’t matching my roots or following the stereotypes. This eventually kick started a period of my life where I was trying to figure out my cultural identity that lead into college. The moment that my eyes opened as to the real perspective of Black people in America came in freshman year of high school. I was a member of my school’s Mock Trial team, and we would go and compete either at the Jersey City Courthouse or at Princeton University for a different part of Mock Trial called Moot Court. My first ever competition at Princeton was when I noticed that people looked at me differently because of the color of my skin.

So from that moment on, being a Black citizen in America meant that I needed to work harder to stand out and live the life I want to live.

Now a lot of minorities know about “the look”. It varies based on the situation you’re in, but basically amounts to the same level of awkwardness and will always leave you at least really uncomfortable. The people looking at me were looking as if they were watching the circus passing by. This type of look I got was the “I didn’t know they came in that color” look. Usually I get this look from White people that evidently have not been outside their own community very often and live in a predominantly White town or city. When the coach of the team saw that we were all getting the look, he told us to use that to motivate ourselves to do better than them. So I did, and even though I got destroyed that year, I felt a drive to improve and show them that I am more than the color of my skin. So from that moment on, being a Black citizen in America meant that I needed to work harder to stand out and live the life I want to live.

After freshman year of high school, I started to pay more attention to how people perceived me in terms of my skin color. The main thing I saw during high school were people that were scared of Black people. There was actually one situation, which I mainly view as more hilarious than anything, where I encountered someone who was scared of both of my ethnic backgrounds. When the Mock Trial team went to the Jersey City Courthouse in my sophomore year (where we proceeded to win the county tournament. Weird flex I know), two other teammates and I were told to prevent the opposing team from taking notes and spying on our team. So in order to do this, I sat in front of one of the members spying on us while the other two sat next to them. Once we started to talk to the spy to distract them, they mentioned how they brought a pocket knife to the courthouse. What they proceeded to say shocked me at how absurd it was to me.

Once I came into college, that’s when the meaning of being Black in America showed its most ugly and harsh part of itself.

They said, and I quote, “I brought it to protect myself against the Black people”. All I could say to that was “WHAT?”, and they immediately tried to fix the situation. However, they only made it worse by saying “Oh no I am sorry. I meant to protect myself against the Puerto Ricans”. All I could say to him was “I’m both”, and I just saw his face turn pale by how much he completely messed up in that conversation. Now I say this situation is hilarious because of the absurdity of it all. I am a pure pacifist. I try to resolve altercations and disagreements with communication and only resort to physically fighting either in self defense or when it’s the only option left. The fact that someone was scared that I was gonna do something because I am a big Black man just made me laugh. This was around the time where I took the Black stereotypes on the chest and laughed through it because there was no harm to it.

Now before I go on to college, I want to preface that I was blessed to have a mother that never gave up on me and helped me want to strive to be great. My mom would always tell me that I may need to work harder than others, but that my options were limitless. She even came storming into my room as a kid when Obama was elected crying that I could go as far as being a President if I wanted to. Once I came into college, that’s when the meaning of being Black in America showed its most ugly and harsh part of itself. When I first came to NJIT, it was during the 2016 election. Thanks to the, for lack of better and non vulgar words, poor word choices of Donald Trump, I began to see the level of overt racism skyrocket to a depressing level. Now this racism was always present, but it was the first time I saw so many people embrace it. It just left an overall bad taste in my mouth and I just felt frustrated at the level of ignorance on display.

 I never knew the level of disrespect that I would receive in what is supposed to be a professional setting.

Coming to NJIT was also where I started to meet more people that were also African-American. Since I was a part of EOP the summer before attending NJIT, I met so many wonderful people who were deeply connected with their Black roots. Being a part of the program meant that I also was shown the different African-American and Hispanic organizations on campus like NSBE, SHPE, and AFSA. My time in the program also allowed me to earn a scholarship from the Black Engineering Technology Alumni Association (BETAA). Earning this scholarship meant that I had to attend two meetings a month with the main benefactors for this organization. These benefactors have had years of experience in the field of engineering and STEM as a whole. The meetings were where I learned a lot of tips and tricks to improve in not only my freshman year, but in college as a whole.

These meetings also were where I became more connected with my Black roots and introduced to the hardships that minorities have to put up with in their careers was baffling in how unnecessary and disrespectful the actions of their higher ups were. The one story that still sticks to me to this day is when one of them shook the hand of their supervisor, and the supervisor proceeded to wipe their hand on their pants. I knew that being Black would put me at a disadvantage when trying to get my foot into the door of my career, but I never knew the level of disrespect that I would receive in what is supposed to be a professional setting. The one person that opened my eyes the most to the prejudices and injustices that Black people go through had to be my mother.

Never wear a hoodie. Never wear shades. If I ever get pulled over by a cop, keep my hands up at all times. Only talk when spoken to. Speak calmly and straightforward. Let them know every action you are doing. Do not resist. Comply. Any mistake, and it will be your life.

Now that I am basically seen as an adult, she became more open about how much racism and prejudice is present with almost every aspect of my life. My mom has had bad experiences as a kid with White people because she was Puerto Rican. So she started to tell me about what to look out for because of the color of my skin. The conversation that broke me, however, was when she told me what to do when driving. Never wear a hoodie. Never wear shades. If I ever get pulled over by a cop, keep my hands up at all times. Only talk when spoken to. Speak calmly and straightforward. Let them know every action you are doing. Do not resist. Comply. Any mistake, and it will be your life. This was the moment that the whole truth was shown to me on what it means to be Black in America. The injustices and straight up attacks on African-Americans citizens of any status. The overt hatred that racist people have and the covert mannerisms that people have around minorities.

Black men and women being killed by cops or racists for doing nothing wrong. Excessive force being used on Black people and Hispanics while White people do the same crime and get a slap on the wrist. White supremacists wishing for Black people to either die or be closed off in their own communities.  White people trying their damned hardest to justify the death of Black people to protect the cops. The deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery may have been the moments that opened peoples’ eyes to these injustices, but I learned way in advance how deep it all goes.

All I saw on his face was nothing but pure hatred. It felt like his glare was piercing through my body. I started getting anxious and walked away. He soon followed me with that same look of pure hatred.

Now this story I wanted to save to the end because it was the most poignant moment in my life in regards to racism. My family went to a Walmart in South Jersey after going to a Cracker Barrel to pick up a few supplies. When entering the store, my mom told us to not wander off by ourselves in this store. I didn’t pay any mind to it and went off on my own to the Electronics section. I mentioned earlier about “the look” and how it depends on the situation you are in. This situation was different. Out of nowhere I suddenly felt daggers on my back. As if my every move was being watched, I turned to see an old White clerk for the Electronics section. All I saw on his face was nothing but pure hatred. It felt like his glare was piercing through my body. I started getting anxious and walked away. He soon followed me with that same look of pure hatred. I walked away faster than before hyperventilating. I knew what this look meant. I felt it deep inside. “You steal something, and I will shoot.”

So what does it mean to be a Black citizen in America? In my opinion, it means that I will have to work harder than most to get my foot in the door in my career. It means that I could be doing anything and I will be targeted by racists and police. It means that there will always be people that hate me for something I cannot control. However, what it also means is that I am blessed to have so much culture in my life that I can share with others. It means that I still can go for a career in teaching Mathematics to the next generation of great minds. It means that I can help aspire young Black men and women to go beyond the stereotypes and strive for greatness. It means that I may need to fight for equality, but that equality can be achieved not just by the color of my skin, but by the content of my character.

What People Want

Poem by An’Jolae Seabrooks, NJIT sophomore

People want what they want.

Whether it’s a new car,

A new house,

Even a new career.

People want what they want.

Whether it’s change,

A new outlook on life,

Even to change who they are as a person.

People…people want a lot of things.

But…

Why don’t they want us to live?

To be equal?

Our excellence?

People want what they want.

In this case…

We want justice.

We want rights.

We want to drive without feeling scared to be pulled over.

We want to walk these streets like everyone else can.

We want to shop without being followed around the store.

We want to be heard. 

We want…  We want…  We want…

This list could go on and on about what we want.

People want what they want.

In this case…

I want change, 

I want prosperity.

I want people like me to keep living and to achieve our goals.

I want people to understand that Black Lives Matter.

We NEED people to understand Black Lives Matter.

This does not mean no other forms of life matter.

This does not mean that no one else is important.

What we mean is that this fight is important.

We have been oppressed and ignored for too long.

The change we NEED must be fought for once again.

People are tired.

We are tired.

I am tired.

When will you be tired too?

About The Author

Vector Staff

This article was written by a previous member of the Vector Staff, a member of the Vector who does not have staff privileges, or by multiple authors. Author credentials are given at the bottom of the article.

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