Natalie's Story: Ridgefield A Better Chance

This speech was delivered by A Better Chance Scholar Natalie Esikumo who was asked to speak at a Martin Luther King Day event in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Hello everyone, my name is Natalie, and I’m a Junior here.  I am one of the few black girls that attends RHS. I spent the first seven years of my life in Nairobi, Kenya, a country where we all looked the same and spoke our native language, Swahili.  I then moved to the United States where I first encountered people of all different races and ethnicities. We lived in a small town in Massachusetts made up of mostly minorities. In order to fit in, I tried to forget my native language and get rid of my accent. It took a few years, but I finally found a place for myself. In middle school, my parents and I decided that I should apply to the ABC program in order to receive the best education possible.

Coming from a highly diverse town, I knew before I arrived in Ridgefield that it lacked racial and ethnic diversity; But what I didn’t know was how it was going to affect me, and how long it was going to take me to adapt. Walking into the school for the first time felt gratifying, as many people were very kind and wanted to get to know me.  Being one of the only students of color made me feel special, but it also made me feel like I didn’t belong. Despite my feelings, I decided not to let the racial barrier affect how I would behave at school. However, I have seen and heard things that have both angered and upset me.

I have witnessed and experienced discrimination and hate towards me and my ethnic group. The first incident occurred on a bus ride home when a boy in my grade confronted me with a bunch of questions. He asked, “Do you actually live in Ridgefield?” “You know it costs 1,500 dollars to live in this district and attend RHS.”  At the time, I thought he was asking because he wanted to know more about me. But then I realized what he was implying. He assumed because I was black, that I could not afford to live in Ridgefield. Unfortunately, these stereotypes about minorities persist.

By sophomore year, I had become very good friends with a girl I will call “Alice.”  Another friend of mine overheard a conversation between “Alice” and a guy I didn’t know in the hallway at school. Apparently, “Alice” was joking around with this guy and said the N-word. When I found out, I confronted her and let her know that it was never okay for her to say that word.  She apologized but also made light of it and said, ”What’s your problem, dude? Everyone says it.” Most of the people who use this word do not understand its origin. “N*****” is a word with strong historic meaning used to degrade free and enslaved Africans for centuries.

There have been other incidents of racism and discrimination towards black people such as blackface and written racial slurs. These incidents show how much learning we need. As a community, we need to be able to build each other up and not put others down based on their differences. Diversity should be embraced and not shunned because there’s a lot that we can learn from each other. If you look beyond my skin color, I have a rich culture that I can share, and my past experiences tell a story. There are even lessons from the texture of my hair. I am just a small representation of our world out there. This world would be so boring if we were all the same.

In order for us to live in a community full of compassion and without discrimination, we must get to know someone before stereotyping them. Just looking at the color of a person’s skin can lead someone to miss out on who they really are. At the end of the day, we all have more similarities than we have differences.

So, what are your aspirations for high school?  I want to get a great education, make good friends, and create amazing memories.  By stereotyping and targeting others, we are taking opportunities away from each other to experience high school to the fullest. I am a high school student just like everybody else, and I want to see positive change occur in our school.  In the meantime, as my mentor, Michelle Obama says, “When they go low, we go high.”

 

Natalie Esikumo
Junior, Ridgefield A Better Chance