Registration for Better World Day is now open! Sign up to celebrate meaningful student work Friday, May 5.
Header image

Becoming My Best Self: Self-Improvement as an Act of Black Resistance

“Becoming the best version of myself is my act of Black Resistance.”

Saniya Cunningham, student at Kuumba Academy in Wilmington, Delaware

Each year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) selects a Black History Month theme. ASALH is regarded as an authority on the topic of Black History and the source for themes for the month for many educational and public institutions. This year’s theme is “Black Resistance.”

Black Resistance is the collective and individual struggle of Black people of the diaspora against anti-Black racism. Specifically, in the United States, this resistance was born out of the lasting legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. Although chattel slavery has ended in the US, Black people still experience violence, systematic disenfranchisement, and exclusion from health care, education, and economic, political, and social life. At its core, Black Resistance is about the fight for justice, equity, inclusion, and freedom in all its varied forms. Read more about Black Resistance on ASALH’s web page.

This month, we’re hearing from Saniya Cunningham, a student at Kuumba Academy in Wilmington, Delaware, and a keynote speaker at EL Education’s 2023 National Conference: A World of Good. We asked Saniya to share her journey of Black Resistance with us. Here’s what she had to say:

Hello everyone, and happy Black History Month! My name is Saniya Cunningham, and words can’t express how honored I am to share my experience with Black Resistance with the EL Education community.

My Black Resistance Journey began in first grade.

I learned to read and write very young. By the time I started grade school, I was ahead of my class. My advanced skill set granted me a lot of free time. No, not the fun free time where you could play cool math games on your computer, but the kind of free time where you have to sit in silence.

Thankfully, I had a fantastic teacher named Ms. Stone who wanted the best for me. She encouraged me to spend that free time reading books that challenged me, like Harry Potter. At first, I hated the idea.

What kind of monster would make a poor, innocent child like me read during my free time, especially a boring book about a child living with his aunt and uncle?

It took some convincing, but eventually, I took the book home to read.

The first thing I noticed was the advanced vocabulary that I couldn’t understand. I was curious, so I asked my dad to read the book to me. Before I knew it, I’d fallen in love with the immersive wizarding world and realized I’d need to challenge myself to learn that advanced vocabulary to continue reading the rest of the books. I learned to challenge myself and try new things to become the best version of myself. I learned to work until you quite literally can’t improve anymore.

I continued challenging myself.

I took on public speaking engagements like welcoming new Kindergarteners to my school. I tried out for musicals and plays at my school. Through it all, I continued to read and began to write, too. By the end of fourth grade, I had read all seven Harry Potter books and written my first book: The Legend of Volcania. My book was about a girl named Voli, the princess of a fire planet named Volcania. When her planet is attacked, Voli crash-lands on earth and has to learn to be a regular girl.

I’ve learned about many famous and powerful Black women by strengthening my reading skills. My writing lets me express myself and have confidence in who I am.

I am resisting in a world where many people want to follow and be the same as everyone else. I am resisting the world’s definition of who a Black girl should be by being myself and doing what I love.

Becoming the best version of myself is my act of Black Resistance.

Since then, I’ve continued to work on being the best version of myself and sharing my journey with others who may be on their journey to becoming their best version. I recently gave a keynote speech at EL Education’s 2022 National Conference: A World of Good. I am an active student ambassador and a change agent in my school and community.

Saniya Cunningham, keynote speaker at EL Education’s 2022National Conference: A World of Good.

This Black History Month, I encourage others to practice Black Resistance by finding their passion and what makes them unique.

Remember that your journey can start in the most random places. Take a chance and a leap of faith. Allow yourself to take other people’s advice, but don’t let it drive you. Be your own inspiration! Most of all, you have to remember that you are not what others say about you; only you can define the kind of person you are.

Don’t forget, “You can be as great as you want to be, because you have that kind of power.” You didn’t think I’d write this whole thing without quoting myself, did you?

Disclaimer: EL Education is proud to host diverse voices and offer a platform for dialogue on topics impacting educators and students. Views of guest bloggers are their own and may differ from the views of EL Education.

  • Date

  • Author

    Saniya Cunningham