Friday, March 2

"If you teach that n****r how to read, there will be no keeping him. It will forever unfit him to be a slave."

Intellectual. Brilliant. Necessary.  Are just a few words that I would use to describe this brilliant young lady.  

Jada Williams, a 13 year old student from the city of Rochester, wrote an amazing essay based on her thoughts of Frederick Douglass' first autobiography entitled "Narrative of the Life."  This essay was supposed to be entered into a contest but was never entered because she offended her teachers and administrative staff at the school. 

What did this young lady write that caused such a ruckus you ask?  She simply commented upon the contents of the book that the school gave her to read. 

She demonstrated incredible knowledge and understanding of a piece of literature that can be quite challenging for a 13 year old to digest.  She admits that she had to keep a dictionary and thesaurus nearby so that she could successfully complete the book.  But she persevered and it resulted in her having a greater knowledge about our history.

By reading the “Narrative of Life” her eyes were opened to some truths that seem to have been lost on many people of her generation.  She was then exposed to the ugly truth of racism and slavery that we have quickly forgotten over the years. 

In her essay, she pointed out that many of the white teachers in the school system don’t have the ability to control the classroom to successfully teach the minority students in her community.  And that as students have a responsibility to be learners and to become engaged in their learning experience. 

“A grand price was paid in order for us to be where we are today; but in my mind we should be a lot further, so again I encourage the white teachers to instruct and I encourage my people to not just be a student, but become a learner.” Jada Williams

Jada even comments on the fact that the so-called ‘unteachable’ students of today who aren’t learning to read is a form of modern-day slavery as their illiteracy is holding them back in society.

One would think that this type of learning and determination would be applauded and celebrated.  But I guess “If you teach that nigger  how to read, there will be no keeping him. It will forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.”  - Mr. Auld as quoted by Douglass, from a speech about how useless a slave would be if taught to read.

Sadly, her tenacity is not celebrated.  Suddenly, this almost straight-A student began to receive very low grades, without explanation, and was kicked out of class for laughing and was threatened with an in-school suspension.

When her parents went to the school to inquire about her grades, they were given the run-around, no one was able to produce the tests and school work on which she did so ‘poorly’ and they labelled her a ‘angry’ and the ‘problem’.

What is going on in society today?  I wish there were more students both young and mature that would stand up and make statements like this and expose the truths of society.  I pray that she continues to fight for her voice to he heard as she matures and  I commend her parents, because without them she wouldn’t be the incredible scholar that she is demonstrating to be at such a young age.

I like to believe that things have changed....but stories like this make me far have we really come?


April Byrd said...

Amen! If you know the truth it will set you free. Thanks for sharing Trey!

Dey-Dey said...

I read this very same book at 13, 10 years ago to be exact. I produced a play for the black history month, and i performed a monologue. I too was put into hot water from teachers, but I've always felt a sense of pride, even now from that performance because of the message I was sending needed to be heard by my peers. I encourage everyone to read this book. I wish Jada all the best.