Sunday, December 17, 2017

In celebration of Black History Month, we are excited to publish students’ poetry, personal narratives, and art from the Arts and Humanities Academy

Maya Raiford Cohen

For a lot of my life, I identified as strictly mixed race, with a black mother and a white father. The specificity served a few purposes; I wasn’t mistaken as some “exotic” other, my probable outfit of  Brandy Melville and Rainbows was immediately explained, and more importantly, I distanced myself from a strictly African American identity, something that I’d always admired, respected, and upheld but also occasionally felt rejected and hindered by.

This last part was difficult. I came from an upper middle class household with two professional parents who had Ivy League degrees. I owned too many pairs of Lulu’s and BIHS had been my first choice small-school. I allowed myself to believe that this somehow invalidated my blackness and excluded me from the history, culture, and community my mother’s family had offered me since birth.

I am just now beginning to mature past this. There is no one definition of what being black is and I can fit within the community in the ways I am most familiar with. For me, that meant appreciating and listening to my parents, who are both Professors of African American studies.

It meant reading Toni Morrison, Malcolm X, and Richard Wright and fitting an African American studies class into my BIHS schedule. It meant shutting down highways when Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Michael Brown,  Philandro Castile and Alton Sterling were killed by police in their hometowns.

Now, when I’m asked to check a box on a survey or a college application, I always choose black. Not because it’s somehow advantageous, but because I see black history as something that I too can be included in, regardless of my white father. It has shaped my politics, interests, actions, and rhetoric. It is something that deserves my celebration.

Daraja McDonald

Who inspires you?

My mom. I used to live with my mom for a majority of the time, and I watched her work hard just to fight for me and my brothers to have food and a roof over our heads. Just seeing her work that hard without stopping, she inspires me a lot.

What does it mean to be Black?

For me, I feel like being Black is a whole culture that everybody loves. I love being who I am — A Black person —  we might have our cons but at the end of the day it’s the culture that has a lot of meaning. The culture, the love, the food, the people, how we act. Just even having Melanin; it means a lot to be black.

What do you think about the N-word?

I don’t know. I’m not going to lie, I say it all the time. When I say it, I don’t think about it, but it’s pretty bad how it’s embedded in our minds. It’s weird how the roles have switched up for the meaning of the word.

Daya Predon

Who inspires you?

My inspiration is my mom because she’s such a strong minded and lovable person, she is a great supporter and I love her.

What does it mean to be Black?

Black to me is a lot, it means knowing your background and acknowledging what our ancestors went through to get us to where we are today. I also believe that giving African Americans recognition for the culture is important. But it’s more than recognizing our accomplishments and our style, it’s showing it.

What are some stereotypes you face as a Black woman in America?

A stereotype that I face as a Black woman in America is always being angry. I prove them wrong by trying to stay positive and making sure that I greet everyone even if I don’t know them.

What does success mean to you?

I think success means to be able to do what you love, if you’re doing what you aspire to do in life then you’re successful. Everybody’s success is different.

How has CAS influenced your growth as a person?

CAS has helped shape me into the person I am today because before I joined CAS, I wasn’t really social when it came to talking to other people that didn’t necessarily look like me. But when I came to CAS, there was a mix of all different types of people, and I got to know so many new personalities, which kind of shaped me into a more extroverted person, and got me to start trying new things and getting out of my comfort zone.

How do you feel about the N-word?

When Black people say the N-word I don’t really feel affected by it, but I feel like we all should because it didn’t start off as a positive connotation it was used to disrespect us and dehumanize us. When non-Black people use the N-word I feel completely disrespected because the same people who use the N-word and feel like it is OK are white people.

Claire Oby

Dear white feminists,

As a girl of color who is in Youth and Government (Y&G) and Academic Choice (AC), I have A LOT of experience with white feminism. Often times I will find my white counterparts explaining to me the struggle of being a woman, as if I don’t understand. I do not need you to explain the female struggle to me, I experience the same amount of sexism you do, and I experience it to the higher degree. The same boys and teachers who treat you unfairly, treat me unfairly too, but they also usually do it a lot more. I do understand what it’s like to be treated as a if you’re stupid, but if you as a white person get treated as a child, I get treated as a tiny baby. And I do get what it’s like to be ignored or treated like trash, and what it’s like to not be valued. So I do not need someone to explain the struggle to me, I am acutely aware of the struggle.

White feminism is also extremely one sided and almost hypocritical. You can’t pick and choose the rights you fight for. As MLK so famously said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

As I walked with the hundreds of people at the incredible Women March in Oakland I was left wondering where the majority of these people were during the Black Lives Matter protests.

Signs proclaiming feminism and love for women were everywhere, but where were these people after the death of Sandra Bland. Did she not warrant the same love, compassion, and support from the feminist movement because of the color of her skin and the type of discrimination she faced because of it? You absolutely cannot fight so adamantly for the equality of women but then ignore the struggle of a large portion of the women in this country. Feminism is not feminism if it does not include for the fight for the equality of every single women, regardless of race, sexuality, nationality, or religion. So white feminists, feminism is not limited to issues only concerning you, feminism is a fight against racism. Feminism is a fight against Islamophobia, against transphobia, against homophobia, against rape culture, against global warming. Senator Kamala Harris, one of the most outstanding feminists of our time, expressed this sentiment best when she said that all issues are women’s issues.

If you identify as a feminist please try to be an intersectional feminist. This means when you talk about feminism please remember to leave room for the girls who have had different experiences with sexism. This means backing up your black friend in class when she speaks about the racism in within the school. Sometimes it means speaking up even if you feel uncomfortable. It means remembering that women come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and that feminism has to represent all of them.

Leah Abramson

What’s one word that best describes you?

I’d say easygoing. I’m able to be in different circles pretty easily and very easy to talk to.

What are your post-graduation plans?

During the summer I’m planning on traveling and then going to college.

How much of an impact has dance had in your life?

It’s had a pretty big impact. I’ve been dancing ever since I was little, off and on and especially in high school. I did Afro-Haitian dance for two years and that opened up my eyes in terms of how dance can be related to different culture.

Are you a feminist? What does it mean to be a feminist?

I definitely think I’m an activist in terms of  women’s rights but in terms of just going out there and making things happen, I think I’m more at surface level. I notice it but I could probably do more about it. I think being a feminist means not only fighting for the right’s of women but at the same time being aware of your surroundings and how either someone can be affected as a women or in relation to women. It’s addressing the overall issues women face and the many impacts women have on society.

What’s your ethnicity?

I come from a Black, Indian, Native- American background on my mother’s side, and my dad is White.

What does it mean to be Black to you?

To be Black, and any other race it means coming from a certain culture and being able to relate to different things in  that culture. As African Americans, throughout history, we’ve built up this strength and will to push forward no matter what obstacles stand in our way. We have to continue to push forward, be allies to others and most of all get to a place where we feel equal to others which is still a work in progress.

Jaden Lewis

Who inspires you?

Successful people inspire me. No one person is someone I would say I want to be like that guy. I want to be like more than one person but in the end I want to be like myself. You could say that the future me inspires the present me.

What does it mean to be Black?

Part of me wants to say that being Black simply means that you are of African descent and you have melanin. Being Black has something to do with your role in society, the way you are viewed and judged. But being Black for me is hard, it has made me more successful. African American males dominate sports. I am a African American male and I dominate sports. Is that genetic? I don’t know, probably. Being Black means a lot but I can’t say being Black means one specific thing.

What stereotypes do you face as a Black man?

I fit the Big Black Man stereotype, the big angry Black guy stereotype. I didn’t choose to and I wish I wasn’t a stereotype. I’m judged a lot before people even get to know me because I am a big Black guy. Sometimes it sucks, sometimes I don’t care because it’s about who you think you are as a person. People are always going to judge you no matter what you do.

Have you ever felt like you had to change yourself in any way to make someone more comfortable/ less scared of you?

Absolutely for two reasons. I’m Black but not only that I’m 6’5”. There’s times were I walk into CVS and I just want a Honey Bun. I walk in and if I don’t look at everyone working there in the eyes and nod my head, they get a little bit suspicious. Everytime I walk in somewhere I find myself having to look at people. I like to take walks a lot when I’m bored through Berkeley and when someone’s walking towards me, I always have to look them in the eye, and nod my head. If I just walked normally, on my phone like usual you can notice move away or pay extra attention to me. Am I going to rob you Ms. Jenkins? No. Am I going to steal a HoneyBun from CVS and have you call the cops? No, it’s a dollar. It’s small things that I have to do.

What struggles do you face as a multicultural man? Have you ever changed the way you acted around different groups people?

I’ll be at home. My mother is white and I like to joke a lot. We’ll be watching the news and my mom is liberal and pro-Black. On the news, they’ll say white people broke windows at Black Lives Matter protest, and I’ll say damn them or something like that. My mom will start telling me that I need to be proud of my white side. I’m white and if I’m not proud of it. I’m saying I don’t like my white side. I have to tell her that I’m also Black, and I find it hard to be proud of a white side because what have they done to be proud. And this also brings up the question of why can’t they be proud? That must suck for some of them.

Have you ever changed the way you acted around different groups people?

Yes, when I’m with my Black friends, I act way differently than I am with my other groups of friends. I like to think of it like a language. If you speak Spanish, would I only speak to you in English? It would be a lot better if I spoke Spanish to you.

How do you feel about the N-word?

I love it. Here’s how I feel about it. White people can’t say the N-word because the past happened whether or not people want to erase it. When it comes to Black people, it’s a term of endearment and power. It’s “yo my N-word which means my fellow Black man.” People take it as deep to say that we shouldn’t use it at all, no, keep it. I don’t think Latinos and Asians should say the word just because they aren’t Black. It means Black person or my fellow Black person. You can’t be a fellow Black if you’re not Black.

What does success mean to you?

My own personal success would be having a stupid amount of money and happiness. You are successful in what youre doing if you are happy doing it. I would be really happy with a lot of money.

Angie Rodriguez

Who inspires you?

I use to be really inspired by a lot of people, but I held a lot of those people to high expectations, and with that comes big disappointment. So, I mostly look to God. Not to sound cliché or corny but that’s the only pure and comforting inspiration.

What’s your ethnicity?

I’m Mexican, Black, and white.

What does it mean to be Black?

It’s hard to answer these questions when it comes to race because I’m so many races that I don’t truly know what it feels like to be connected to any culture so deeply to the point where you have such strong pride! But Black is so beautiful, and it’s empowering to know I have such strong ancestors and culture flowing through me. It’s not something everyone can connect to, and I feel very privileged to be able to. Especially because Black people are so underrated so when you see successful Black people the excitement that hits and the way you take it in is so different from how non-Black people do.

Onynex Johnson

Illegal Pharaoh

I hold on to the Eye of Rah

A king who leads his people

We are drawn from the line of Horus

A line of Great kings and queens

A line of a Pharaoh

We are oppressed by the people that loved us

We are shot down, beat up, ripped apart … illegal

We were once a proud line of kings and queens, now all are treated as if we are illegal.

As if these lands weren’t ours.

We are kings and queens of our own kind.

We are pharaohs of our own kind. We are not illegal.

We are the proud, burnt-brown skinned kings and queens.

We are Pharaohs

Nya Sandeford

Black Queen

This smooth, rich, milk chocolate encapsulates me,

It hugs me tight at the hips and releases its embrace at my limbs

These dark brown eyes are portals to my soul, luring you in with every bat of the lash and every wink of the eye

My bottom lip, luscious and full, rests gently above my chin, until the moment when

This grand smile steals your breath away and leaves you with the desire to taste my chocolate cherry gums

This full head of hair, beautiful, thick hair

Coils so rapidly in the presence of water, yet elongates instantaneously in the sight of the pressing comb

This soul, full of wisdom and courage,

Is opulent,

It is elegance.

It is intelligence.

It is God.

It is love.

It is the driving force behind the being you see,

A young. beautiful. Black Queen.

Jahlil Rahim


My mane rests upon my thoughts

Painted by rays of the sun, my throne

My black is the root of all earth

My purpose was created before

my own birth

I was already king, for I created mathematics

And everything else, for everything is mathematics

I created time.

I create timelessness.

Jah is God

Rahim is servant of God

Therefore, my only master is


Lawrence O’Neal


I’m ashamed to be black.

It’s believed that having sense is white,

But if having sense is white doesn’t that make all black people senseless.

I’m ashamed to be black.

Not because of our history or our past,

But because of our present.

We believe in thug life and short life,

And revenge is only a virtue for the real.

But to take another life back to back to back to back,

If that’s the life black people want to live I don’t wanna be black.

I’m ashamed to be black.

We curse our brothers and sisters

And shame our ancestors.

I’m ashamed to be black

We hurt each other.

We kill each other.

We tear each other down so we can’t get back up.

If that’s what it means to be black,

Then make me white, Hispanic, or latino,

Because if having a rich history means having a poor future,

then no I don’t wanna be black.

I’m ashamed of the people that surround me.

Who torment patronize and bully each other,

Who only believe in violence and idiocy,

Who only believe in an eye for an eye, a hand for a hand, and a life for a life.

I can’t tell the difference anymore from being black and living in hell because right they both seem to be the same thing.

We let our demons and insecurities control us till we don’t have self control.

There is no better man.

There is no brighter future.

There is no happy ending.

They say there is a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow,

But what if mines has coal?

What if mines is filled with hate and deceit,

What everything I was told as a child was a lie,

Be the change you want see in the world, but the world can’t change with only one person!

If I’m a leader without followers,

What’s the point in not following anyone else?

Is it because I believe in the lies I was told as a child?

Is it because I believe in our ancestors who made being black a prideful thing?

So yea I’m ashamed of being black.

Because what I am is African American.

We are a strong people!

A proud people!

A kind and gentle people!

I’m ashamed of being something I’m not because it’s what I was called.

I am not black.

I am not a color of doom!

But a race of kings and queens.

I am African American!

I am proud to be African American!

Berenabas Lukas

It began in middle school when I was choosing my small school at Berkeley high and I wasn’t well informed on what each school was about. I ended up choosing IB because everyone told me it was a “good school” and all the “smart people” went to IB. IB was apparently the best school and most people said they would definitely recommend it. So when the time came, IB was my first choice because, really, why not?  I decided to go to IB even though I didn’t know much about it.

Once I arrived, I immediately realized that it was a predominately white school, which made me uncomfortable, right from the start. I didn’t really know if I wanted to leave or stay, but I realized I had to stay and fight the racism and other issues that I face in IB because if I left and switched to another school, I would be giving up and not proving the people that believe I won’t make it in IB because I’m black wrong. This became my main motivation to stay in IB. However, the issues within the school are so severe, often times I catch myself thinking is it more important to prove people wrong or to protect my mental health?

In my time in IB I have dealt with an overwhelming amount of racial issues and discrimination. To be absolutely honest, I hate the school so much. I’m just trying to do my best because IB is challenging academically but I also face many mental challenges which my white counterparts can easily overlook. When you’re the only black student in the class and everyone always look to you to represent the entire race it feels like a burden, a burden that no one person should have to carry because it’s extremely damaging mentally. People of color in IB have to carry that burden EVERY DAY. It feels like I have to represent everyone of my race and the people in IB that are white are usually so ignorant. Most of them don’t even seem care enough to try to get to know other cultures. When African Americans are mentioned, everything that they talk about has to do with slavery and how white people oppressed blacks. They don’t think about all the achievements and accomplishments that African Americans have made. African Americans, as a whole, have contributed to so much to this world and to this country, but people’s ignorance blinds them from those many accomplishments and they can only see us as slaves or lesser than them. Furthermore, when you try to educate them and change their point of view, they always have some reason as to why they are correct or a reason to not listen and get educated. They undermine your ability to learn things in class and treat you as a lesser. It’s just sad and disgusting to be honest. I’ve been treated as if I was stupid in many of my classes by students and teachers because of the color of my skin.

The problem is the teachers don’t really support minorities when it comes to talking about racial issues. When somebody says something very ignorant or uneducated, 90 percent of the time the teachers don’t step in to educate them. The student that is being dehumanized by their classmate has to either sit there, take it in, and say nothing, or speak up and try to educate the entire class. This creates mental stress for many students of color since usually the student has to educate the whole class alone because there aren’t other POC in the class to support them. This is not what any student is at school to do. We are there to learn, not to educate the entire class on topics that they are too ignorant to learn about themselves.

The mental health aspect of IB is incredibly disconcerting. Our workload is insane and most people don’t understand how incredibly harmful that is to a person. The curriculum is sometimes inaccurate especially concerning minorities. Last year in history we were taught some things that weren’t factually accurate about African American people. At the time I felt uncomfortable speaking to the teacher and addressing the issue so I just had to do the assignment knowing that what it was incorrect.

The daily racism and bigotry within the entire school are also almost never addressed.When I was in ninth grade one of my peers would always make very racist statements in class (black people should be sent back to Africa, Trump should build the wall, we should deport all Mexicans). It became a daily occurrence and evolved into blatant harassment towards me and my friend. We decided to report him to OCI, and we told them about the daily harassment, how uncomfortable it was making us and how we couldn’t learn in that class. The school asked if all the students involved and their families could sit down and have a restorative justice circle, but his family refused, saying they were uncomfortable talking with us and didn’t want to try and resolve the issue. They instead decided to move schools because of the situation. For a short period of time the school was going to suspend him, but it was near the end of the year so they felt they couldn’t with finals going on. Situations like these make minorities feel like the school doesn’t support them as much as it should. BIHS focuses on the white students first and when minorities ask for help it’s not a priority, it’s an afterthought. We often feel ignored and most teachers in IB and AC aren’t educated enough on racial and social justice issues. When they do speak up it’s usually incredibly insincere, as if they were reading straight from a textbook. Most times they just ignore the situation completely. For example, when we had to walk out last year, many of the teachers didn’t know what to say so they just kept going with their curriculum and didn’t check in with the students who were affected by the racist message that was written. Only one of my six teachers talked about the walkout and opened the floor for student opinions. All of the others said very inaccurate things about it or just failed to acknowledge it at all.  This year when we walked out after Trump’s presidential election, many teachers made little effort to talk about the walkout or about Donald Trump. Again, they either ignored their students feelings or mentioned it for a quick second, leaving no space for students to share their opinions. The school as a whole, but especially BIHS, doesn’t support minorities with their mental health and often times ignore events and situations that may affect their feeling of safety and their ability to learn. As said before, it has made me want to switch out of BIHS, but I know I have to prove to myself that I can make it through a school where I don’t see my race represented, a school that oppresses people like me.

Lee’Andrajnae Cross

All different color eyes

All different sizes of thighs

But at the end we still one race

Competing against one another

We all brothers and sisters

So don’t beat yourself to the chase

Slim and thick

Thick lips and big tits

Is what we want but cant have

Its the genetics in me that keep my blood running

That gives me my identity and who I really am

I don’t want to fight for the guy

Who has done us both wrong and said bye

I don’t want to go to a funeral

And say black lives matter

Because the man behind the gun

Was black and it didn’t matter

Being killed without a reason

Because they scared of black season

But black season is everyday

The air we breath, and the words we say

I want to be more

I want to make it out

The black boy says that every night

And wants to believe it’s true no doubt

The next day his brother died

right outside of his house

Now he gotta get back

And be the person he never wanted to be

Pow! the gun pops

And that boy got life

Momma on the side saying its just not right

Now we got 2 deaths in 48 hours

But thats only one case

The rest of them real sour

The white police man kills a black man

All they really doing is decreasing our life span

But why give in

Don’t let them let you hit your lows

Get through this struggle

and let that final whistle blow

You are black and you have power

They ain’t fight for no reason

Martin Luther King fought for what we all needed

So don’t throw that away

Let it be something you embrace

They gave us February so that we could celebrate

Don’t throw it 6 feet under

Don’t throw it in jail

Keep it in your heart

And pray every night

That we get a fresh start

Asia Mims-Johnson

To Those Who Don’t Understand,

  There are levels to this melanin, it’s not only skin deep. Our history starts at the dawn of time, not with American Slavery.                                                                     

There are levels to this melanin, we come in all shades. From cream to butterscotch to dark chocolate and every color in between. Our hair is everything from dark to blonde. My sister’s eyes are blue…nah she ain’t mixed and that’s not a problem.

We need Black Power because it’s not supremacy, it’s equality. When all we’re seein’ is European it’s hard to tell where you can fit in.

To all my Sistahs, you’re a queen handpicked  and crafted perfectly.

No matter if you got a weave perm press or natural. Just know you can do anything.

To all my brothas, you are kings and your power is amazing. An educated black man goes far, as history has shown time and time again.

There are levels to this melanin it’s not only skin deep. Be proud of who you are, our heritage and history is beauty.