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Black History Month: A Speech by Caroline Twyman

A Speech by Caroline Twyman

Caroline Twyman (center) with brothers Tripp (left) and Matthew (right)

Caroline Twyman (center) with brothers Tripp (left) and Matthew (right)

Caroline Twyman is a fourteen year old freshman at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California.  She is the daughter of Schuyler and Winkfield Twyman, younger sister of Tripp and Matthew, granddaughter of Carol Rainey (UCCLM).  At Bishop’s, she is a straight “A,” Honor Roll student; active member of the Black Student Union (BSU), Federation of Christian Athletes (FCA), soccer and track teams.  Outside of school, Caroline is a member of the San Diego Chapter of Jack & Jill of America, Inc. and plays club soccer.  Her passions are photography and playing club soccer.  Her active mind and vibrant personality make her a social magnet.

 

Caroline delivered this speech at chapel to the 6th & 7th graders, then to the 8th & 9th graders on February 21st and 22nd respectively, as part of the Black History month focus.

 

Hi.  Most of you know me, but I’m Caroline, and if you can’t tell by looking at me, I am indeed African-American and it is indeed Black History Month.  So if you put two and two together, you can figure out why I’m here to speak. If I’m correct, I’d say there are a little over 250 people in this chapel, and probably about 25 black people total. Believe it or not, that number is a lot higher than I’m used to, in any group of people. Until I came to Bishop’s a few years ago, I had never gone to school with another black kid in my grade. Thanks to the church we attend and our group of close family friends, I’ve still gotten to grow up with black people in my life, but I’ve never really felt like I fit in. I didn’t fit in with my black friends, and I’ve always felt different from my white friends, to this day.  Because my whole life I’ve always been told that I’m not black enough.  In almost every environment, other kids tell me that I’m not black enough.  Because I don’t know every lyric to every “trap” song, because I don’t dance well, because I don’t wear “hood clothes,” and because I don’t talk black. Well, first of all, let me tell you there’s a difference between being well educated and being white, ok.  I can be black and talk correctly.  I don’t have to sound like I walked straight out of 1960 Alabama.

To go right into the obvious things, I have “black” hair. When I was little I wore my hair in braids every day and now I wear it up every day, because when it’s down I have an afro, which I don’t mind and I don’t know about you but I don’t know a single white person with an afro.  And then there’s my skin.  I mean, personally I think I look black.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when a girl will go to the beach for one day, get a little bit tan, and then post a picture of themselves saying “OMG, I’m black.”  So, if getting a tan makes you black, then why do you get to say that I’m not black?  Believe me, I understand that it’s not meant to be offensive, and oh, “you’re referring to the color black” but what I don’t understand is if you can go to the beach for one day and become black, then what makes me not black?  Lots of questions there. When my brother was in elementary school, other kids used to call him the N word at recess.  Is that “not black enough” for you?  My dad grew up in Virginia and went to segregated schools until third grade, so, please, call me white one more time.  Because obviously I don’t talk black enough, or dress black enough, or dance black enough, so I must not be black.

I remember towards the beginning of the school year we had an assembly about immigration and the speaker asked people to stand up if they were a first generation citizen, second generation etc. and by the fourth generation almost everyone in the gym was standing. My friend turned to me and said “Caroline, stand up” and I said, “What do you mean stand up?  My ancestors came over on the slave boats.” She laughed, probably assuming I was kidding.  But I was dead serious.  Not all of my great-grandparents immigrated to America from Europe.  Many of my ancestors have lived in America since the 17th century, working on the slave plantations. They lived in a time when “All men are created equal” did not apply to all men, but in fact to only the elite men, only the white men.

There is so much struggle going on in our country and all over the world right now.  But there was so much progression here in America.  I believe as a country we took one huge step forward, but we keep taking even bigger steps backwards.  I was at the Martin Luther King parade a few weeks ago and we saw a group of white people wearing shirts that said “black lives matter” and holding signs that said “white people for black lives.”  I personally thought it was cute, but my friends said,  “They’re only here because they know they’re guilty.  It’s like they’re apologizing for slavery.  Although it made me laugh, what she said was wrong. The world needs a lot more people like them, because they were showing progression….progression.  I was five years old when Obama was first elected.  I grew up feeling I was equal, and knowing I could achieve anything.  But now I’m just scared.  I’m scared of the world I live in and I’m scared of what’s in store for my future.  My mom is scared too.  My brothers, they’re 19 and 20 years old, and every day she is afraid that they will be in the wrong place at the wrong time and end up getting shot…and she knows there is nothing she can do to protect them.  I’m scared.  That’s the kind of struggle that you don’t know unless you live it.  If you think racism doesn’t exist, then check your white privilege and think about it again, because chances are you don’t experience it.

Remember when our founding fathers gathered to write up the Constitution, starting with the liberal phrase, “All men are created equal?”  But that didn’t actually apply to all men, it only applied to a certain group of racially and socially selected men.  “All men are created equal” didn’t seem to come into consideration when the backs of my ancestors were being beaten by their white masters after hours of slave work… I have no doubt that every person’s life is of value regardless of race, but, no, “All lives matter” isn’t relevant because obviously ‘all’ doesn’t apply to me, or my brothers, or my people.  If all lives matter then why are black people still getting shot down in the streets with absolutely no human regard?  So imagine if all lives actually mattered, because a lot of people seem to think that mine doesn’t.  I am so proud of my background and who I am, but when some of my white friends say “I wish I were black” I pray they know what kind of adversity they’re wishing upon themselves. We live, as a race, in constant struggle.

Have you ever been walking down the street minding your own business, but when someone sees you they walk on the other side of the street.  Because that’s just so dangerous, I mean, Lord forbid you walk on the same sidewalk as a black person. Have you ever had every single kid in your 5th grade class stare at you when you’re learning about slavery as if you experienced it first hand and you’re some broken object that they should pity or ask questions.  “Um, um, what were the cotton fields like, Caroline?”  Sorry, but I did not happen to be alive before the Civil War.  Have you ever seen a police officer and felt your heart suddenly drop to the floor?  And you adjust your posture and look around you to make sure you’re not breaking any laws or doing anything that might draw their attention.  And you give them a nervous smile as they walk by and maybe a slight nod, but nothing too suggestive so you don’t provoke them.  Has anyone ever told you that it’s your fault Ebola was brought to America? Have you ever been able to drive a nice car without being accused of stealing it?  Have you ever been targeted?  You don’t have to be black to feel like you’ve been targeted, or singled out, or discriminated.  As humans we have such a habit of picking out minorities and making them feel so unequal.  It’s a terrible thing, and people know it’s terrible.  Yet it still happens every day and everywhere.

Now I’m going to briefly go into the story of Emmett Till, and I hope by the time I’m finished here, you all are inspired to say a little prayer for the world because Lord do we need it. This story was brought to my attention recently because my brother did a little PSA about it on snapchat and shared his own experience with this sort of situation.  In 1955, a white woman named Carolyn Bryant accused a young African-American man of flirting with her and making “physical advances.”  This young man’s name was Emmett Till and he was visiting family in Mississippi at the time of the accusations.  Three days later, Carolyn’s husband and brother tracked Emmett down “and made him carry a 75-pound cotton-gin fan to the bank of a River and ordered him to take off his clothes. The two men then beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head, and then threw his body, tied to the cotton-gin fan with barbed wire, into the river.”  Emmett had just turned 14 years old.  Two weeks later the murderers were put on trial in front of an all white jury and less than an hour later they issued a verdict of “not guilty.”  The news of Emmett’s death is what propelled the civil rights movement in America.  The most tragic part of the story, in my opinion, is that three weeks ago, Carolyn Bryant came out and said she lied about what Emmett had done.  She said in an interview, “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him” and she went on to admit that she fabricated her claims in 1955.  That boy was the same age as all of us. That woman had the nerve to make up a lie that got him killed, and decide to tell the truth about it 60 years later as if that makes any difference, because lies can be untold but that boy can never be brought back from the dead.  Concerning this story, my older brother said, “Just for perspective… things like that are the reason I grew up hearing warnings about spending time alone with white women.  People say times have changed and some things have changed, but stuff like this just isn’t forgotten.”

I am your equal. You are my equal.  We’re all equal.  Everyone knows it, even if some people can’t see it.

I have been a writer and an orator for quite some time now.  When I was nine years old, in 5th grade, I entered an essay contest. The prompt was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and you had to write about your “dream.”  So now I’ll read you my conclusion from that essay.  And please just keep in mind that I was only nine when I wrote this and I still had a lot to learn about how to write.

“Throughout time and African-American history, my three heroes are President Barack Obama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Congressman Joseph Hayne Rainey. They make me feel like I am not just a shadow reflecting off of nothing, but a lightning bolt brave, bold, and strong.  This is why I feel like I can not only do everything, but anything.  I feel it is important to know where I come from, and I come from a very powerful background.

In the end, I feel that Congressman Rainey really stands out. He was strong, and he wouldn’t and didn’t give up.  So if you do have big dreams, take it from Congressman Rainey:  if you try hard and go above and beyond, they are sure to come true because not just I but everyone is capable of anything like becoming an African-American ‘first.’”  (by the way, congressman Rainey is my great-great-great-grandfather and he was the first black congressman in America.)

So, following that, let’s focus on some black achievement. Oprah Winfrey is the wealthiest African-American in the world, worth 3.3 billion dollars, and completely self-made.  Shonda Rhimes, a black woman, created Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, all Emmy winners and some of the highest grossing shows on television. Barack Obama quite literally beat every single odd against him, and became president. And four years later, got reelected.  A black man.  Was president.  Twice!  And I’m so glad my grandparents were alive to see it because in the world they grew up in, they wouldn’t have been allowed to dream of a black man being president.  Thurgood Marshall became the first black man to serve on the Supreme Court in 1967… way too late if you ask me.  But those are just a few.  There are hundreds of accomplished black people whose names you’ve never heard of.  As a race, we literally came from the very bottom.  And look at us now.  To close I’m going to read you a poem that I’m sure you’ve heard before, by Maya Angelou.  IF you don’t know who she is, Maya Angelou was an African-American writer and poet, born in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri.  She was a civil rights activist and the first black female director in Hollywood.  After a lifetime of achievement, she unfortunately passed away three years ago.

So, following that, let’s focus on some black achievement. Oprah Winfrey is the wealthiest African-American in the world, worth 3.3 billion dollars, and completely self-made.  Shonda Rhimes, a black woman, created Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, all Emmy winners and some of the highest grossing shows on television. Barack Obama quite literally beat every single odd against him, and became president. And four years later, got reelected.  A black man.  Was president.  Twice!  And I’m so glad my grandparents were alive to see it because in the world they grew up in, they wouldn’t have been allowed to dream of a black man being president.  Thurgood Marshall became the first black man to serve on the Supreme Court in 1967… way too late if you ask me.  But those are just a few.  There are hundreds of accomplished black people whose names you’ve never heard of.  As a race, we literally came from the very bottom.  And look at us now.  In closing, I suggest you read Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.”  You can find it at  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/46446).  IF you don’t know who she is, Maya Angelou was an African-American writer and poet, born in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri.  She was a civil rights activist and the first black female director in Hollywood.  After a lifetime of achievement, she unfortunately passed away three years ago.  “Still I Rise” was one of her most famous poems.

Happy Black History Month, Thank you.

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