Kaitlyn Hall was selected as the winner of the Office of Student Life’s essay contest to celebrate Black History Month. Hall’s essay (below) describes the challenges and successes of black writers, performers, artists, and political figures.
As the winner, Hall recieved a price valued at $100.
Writers of other essays submitted for the contest include MacKenzie Colson, Megan Hamilton, Nicole Welch, and Mallory Petterson.
They led their communities to equality. They led to teach, to learn, to defy expectations. Some chose to immortalize their stories in the written word, and some chose to show the depth and colors of their lives through art. Others chose to take political action, and others chose to take to the stage.
Black writers wrote from their experiences and their hearts to spread the idea that life should be lived blindly; they wrote to say that color and sexual orientation did not define character, even though they were intrinsic parts of the soul. James Baldwin and Audre Lorde were outspoken in condemnation of gay and lesbian people; a group that was strongly discriminated against even in African-American communities. Especially in African-American communities. Zora Neale Hurston published works in the 1930s and 1940s but was never properly financially rewarded for her work and was buried with an unmarked headstone on her grave. They wrote despite the hatred and the pain. They wrote without earning the money they deserved. They wrote to tell stories. Stories of suffering and pain, but also stories of love, joy, and success.
Black performers took the leading role in performing arts. They acted, danced, and sung in shows that were predominately filled with white actors or played parts in shows that were traditionally white roles. Fredi Washington, a mixed race actress, was urged by studio heads to act as if she was fully white, because it would make her a bigger star. She refused. Debbie Allen directed television shows that showed the family ties and the joy of African-American families. They sang their hearts out. They acted as if they were equal, as if they were better. They danced as if they had no cares in the world, even though the weight of the world rested on their shoulders. It was their time to direct others what to do, to break the chains of oppression and break into the starring role.
Black artists depicted their lives in their drawings and paintings. With splashes of color, they showed that everything wasn’t just black and white. Faith Ringgold designed story quilts that painted her stories on comforting fabrics. First she painted her stories, and then she began to write. Donald Joseph White, best known as Dondi, spraypainted graffiti in a rebellious expression of his bravery. He defied the authorities and created elaborate works of graffiti that he drew for the public to enjoy. He is considered to be one of the most important graffiti artists in the 1970s graffiti movement. Their art was a great equalizer; people of any race and any age could look and enjoy their works. Their art created connections where connections were severed. They told a story with a picture- pictures that were worth thousands of words.
Black political figures were elected to what was the final frontier of equality, the white male dominated world of politics. They competed against people born in wealth, born in different communities, born into the better half of the separate-but-equal United States. Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American justice on the Supreme Court and before he was appointed successfully won the Brown v. Board of Education case a lawyer for the NAACP. He changed the judicial world and was a key participant in the desegregation of schools. He changed the course of controversial cases and the course of segregation. Barack Obama was elected as the first black president in 2008. He led the country bravely and for all men and women, regardless of their race. They fought for equality. They lived under the scrutiny of the public eye, and defied expectations. They broke stereotypes. They nullified inequality. Their actions broke down racial boundaries that stood like the Berlin Wall.
They led. They led to show that they could be successful, to show that their communities could be successful. They led to educate the uneducated; to reduce color to a superficial trait. They led to gain respect for the disrespected; equality for those who were treated as less than worthy; to teach that
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