I was never into writing growing up. I did well on my English assignments throughout school, but never viewed putting a pen to paper as a passion of mine. Fast-forward to my sophomore year of college. I had just transferred to Boston University, stopped playing basketball at the collegiate level, but wanted some way to stay involved with sports other than as a player. To my own surprise, I decided to take my first sports writing class under Paul Flannery (SB Nation). After submitting my first assignment, he pulled me aside after class and said my writing simply wasn’t up to par with the rest of the class. Why did I even take this class, I thought. Flannery later suggested that I join The Daily Free Press in order to get more experience with beat writing. Reluctantly, I did so, not realizing that decision would not only transform the rest of my time at Boston University, but influence the trajectory of my career as well.
Being on-set with Jemele Hill was a full-circle moment. After I started writing for The Daily Free Press in 2014, I attended my first NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists) conference, coincidently held in Boston that year. I sat in on panels featuring Marc Spears, Elle Duncan, William Rhoden, Robin Roberts and Jemele Hill, who just this year was named NABJ Journalist of the Year. I was blown away to be rubbing elbows with so many accomplished black journalists, especially as the sole black sports writer for The Daily Free Press at the time.
With that said, being the black speck in milk, a penny in a jar full of dimes, is all too familiar to me. Navigating two worlds, as Starr Carter did in The Hate U Give, mirrors many of my own experiences throughout adolescence. There were many times I struggled as a student at predominantly white middle and high schools. It was a balancing act. My friends from Medford, a neighborhood just north of Boston, often asked why I went to school so far away and not to public school with them. It was easiest to just blame it on my parents, yet I did feel a sense of separation from the group as Jemele mentions below.
In my desire to keep both my home and school worlds separate, I was reluctant to invite friends over to my house, and ashamed I lived so far away from school. When friends asked if I could hang out on weekends, I more often than not declined. Saturdays I went with my mom to the hair salon and on Sunday we attended church. Both were all day affairs.
When Starr Carter witnesses the murder of her best friend at the hands of police, she experiences her own internal battle of speaking out. She’s reluctant to testify, and doesn’t share with her closest high school friends, including her white boyfriend, what she witnessed. In one scene, students at her high school are released early from school due to the city-wide protests. White students cheer in excitement for a half-day, oblivious to the reason why or simply lacking empathy for the murder of an unarmed black man at the hands of the police.
I think we all have experienced an internal battle of when to speak out in addition to finding our own voice. Growing up when I didn’t think my writing was good enough to share in class while other students jumped at the opportunity, I wish I would have had someone offer the advice Jemele gives below.
With that said, remembering to work hard but also remain patient with your craft is just as relevant to me today. Be sure to check out the full piece with UNINTERRUPTED + The Hate U Give here and also our behind-the-scenes recap.
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