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Black Joy as an Act of Resistance

“Just go for it. Never let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do. Make the impossible seem possible.”

Sydney Smith , River Bluff High School senior and founding member of EL Education’s Student Advisory Council

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 talking to EL Education students and educators about what Black Resistance means to them and how it plays a role in education.

Sydney Smith, a River Bluff High School senior in Lexington, South Carolina, recently visited a nearby elementary school. In celebration of Black History Month, Sydney and more than 20 of her classmates read books by Black authors to younger students.

Sydney read Ron’s Big Mission, written by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden and illustrated by Don Tate. In the book, Ron–based on Ronald McNair, a Black astronaut who died during the 1986 Challenger explosion–heads to a library in South Carolina in the 1950s to check out a book.

However, Ron walks away from the library empty-handed because of segregation and racism. Like the younger students, this was Sydney’s first time hearing nine-year-old Ron’s story of using Black Resistance to end library segregation in his community. She says she saw herself in the book: “Like me, I’m not going to give up.” For Sydney, Ron’s Big Mission represents Black Resistance. It reminds her to “Just go for it. Never let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do. Make the impossible seem possible.”

Sydney, a founding member of EL Education’s Student Advisory Council, makes the impossible seem possible daily by using Black joy as an act of Black Resistance.

At EL Education’s 2022 National Conference: A World of Good, Sydney joined school counselor Dominique Sawyer and fellow SAC members Stephanie Kacou and Marissa Barnwell for a panel called “Black Joy in Schools.” The group explored structures and systems that empower and amplify Black joy in schools.

From the top, left to right, “Black Joy in Schools” panelists Dominique Sawyer, Stephanie Kacou, Marissa Barnwell, and Sydney Smith

Back home, Sydney continues to celebrate Black joy and Black excellence.

For Black History Month 2023, she’s been collaborating with students and teachers at River Bluff High School to organize a weeklong celebration of Black excellence. One day, students will attend a college fair for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs); the next, a career fair featuring local Black professionals with successful careers. One of the week’s most anticipated events is an annual fashion show which students have spent weeks preparing for meticulously.

Later this month, Sydney will help host a “sneaker lunch,” where students dress up and wear their most fashionable sneakers. During the lunch, they’ll listen to a panel of prominent Black community members–many of whom are River Bluff alums–sharing their personal stories, educational experiences, and advice for younger generations.

Learning from older Black community members feels full circle for Sydney. She says she felt a sense of awe while volunteering at the elementary school earlier this month when realizing that–not too long ago–she and her classmates were the ones sitting at those much smaller desks. These moments help Sydney to find solidarity and feel rooted in her community–an act of resistance to anti-Black racism.

These celebrations of Black excellence and Black joy nourish Sydney’s soul as she practices Black Resistance. They remind her of where she comes from and help her to decide where she wants to go in life. She says, “Sometimes I can be the only Black girl in my class, and I struggle with, ‘Who can I connect to? Who can I really talk to? Who understands me?’”

By joyfully learning about and from Black community members while celebrating Black excellence, she uses Black joy as an act of Black Resistance.

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.

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    Sydney Smith & Whitney Emke