1st place: Emily Adelsberger, Citizenship & Belonging

(sit in front of Paige) I remember looking at myself in the mirror at my first ballet class and thinking about how much I loved my new pink leotard.

I remember that my first kiss was with an African American boy and not thinking anything of it at the time.

I remember taking the train home for Thanksgiving last year and looking for someone to sit with and looking for whoever looked the most like my mom.

I remember getting a job on campus in an office that is completely run and employed by women and thinking about how cool that is.

I remember enrolling in a class about race.

(sit in front of Patrick) I remember looking at myself in the mirror after my first comm 397 class and thinking about how white I am and being unsure about whether or not I liked that.

I remember wondering if my first kiss remembers that his first kiss was with a white girl and whether or not that holds any significance to him.

I remember my mom visiting last weekend and realizing that she is white and wondering if when I look for whom to sit next to on my train rides home, by looking for someone who looks like my mom, if I end up looking for someone who is white. I hope that I do not.

I remember going into work one day and realizing that all of the women that I work with are white, except for one, and thinking about how cool I used to think it was that our office is made up of just women. Then, reflecting on how incomplete that initial observation was.

I remember wondering if my reflection had changed since that day of my first ballet class.

(sit in front of Narley) I remember enrolling in a class about race.

I remember living life blind to my own raced body.

I remember enrolling in a class about race.

I remember hoping that it would help me… that it would help us… to see at least a little bit more clearly, from then on.

(sit in front of Emma) I remember being liberated by difference.

I remember returning to an environment– this environment– but approaching it with a much different awareness than I did the first time.

I remember when classrooms like this began to feel more like home than my house did.

I remember watching my class last semester create our own belonging.

I remember witnessing people’s bravery and willingness to not just exist in that room, but to struggle, cry, and to fill the space that our bodies demanded to consume.

(sit in front of Kassie) I remember once in that class about race doing a performance exercise and taking ownership of my skin tone and standing in my societal place– on a white throne– and feeling an overwhelming surge of discomfort.

I remember feeling the desire to step down from that chair– to return my feet to the ground beside my friends.

(sit in front of Ellis) I remember being trapped by how other people see me.

I remember asking myself how years of merely existing as a white body and kissing colored boys, white boys, and quite a few girls along the way has changed that body.

I remember thinking that I don’t look any different, but then realizing that I no longer fit into that pink leotard from my first ballet class anymore.

(sit in front of Kimberlee) I remember staring at my reflection.

I remember seeing myself reflected off of you.

And sometimes watching as my body got rejected by you.

I remember enrolling in a class about belonging.

I remember writing this performance.

I remember enrolling in a class about belonging.

I remember thinking about how every in-class performance has an ending.

(sit in front of Paige [again]) I remember enrolling in a class about belonging.

I remember hoping that it would help me… that it would help us… to find a way to make this performance last, to integrate this vulnerability and strength into our everyday lives, from now on.

 

2nd place: James Kerlin-Smith, A Day in the Life of James Kerlin-Smith

I am lost to say the least, despite experiencing racism and getting called fuckin nigger, black bitch, burned toast, or any number names/slurs, I never let it hold me back from doing anything and everything I wanted to do. I always have clear objectives and goals; I do whatever I need to do to accomplish them. There are truly fucked up people in this world that will do anything to hold you back, but the key is to always say not today and surround yourself with people that push you beyond your limits. I have never thought or talked about race as much as I have this semester! I never look at race, I treat everyone based on how they act, carry themselves and how they treat ME!

In order to fully understand my first racial interaction, I need to go back few years and start from the beginning. My sister and I were adopted from Ethiopia when I was 12 years old and when we arrived in United States in June 2000, I thought we were the only black people here. While I was still in Ethiopia, my friends use to tell me scary stories that I was coming to United States to be a slave, that my skin would turn white, and my hair would be straight.

Since I didn’t have the opportunity to get an education in Ethiopia, I loved every minute of school here. One day I was playing a basketball game called knockout and the point of the game is to make your shot before the person in behind you does. If you fail to make the shot before the person behind you, you get knocked out and it goes on until there is one person standing. I’m not sure what led to this point, but one of the kids got frustrated and yelled, “Joseph, you fuckin nigger!” Of course I had no idea what that meant other then his body language screamed anger and whatever nigger meant couldn’t have been a nice thing to say so I ignored him kept playing. I should note that I got in a fight at school previously and my mother told me that I need to ignore people when I get angry instead of fighting. Anyway, after making my shot I turned around and realized that nobody was moving and they were all staring at the kid and me. Seeing that it didn’t faze me, he said it again and this time my friend Michael said that I had to tell a teacher. I told him that I didn’t care and I just wanted to play, but everything was intense. No one moved. Michael explained that saying nigger was worse than saying fuck and seeing how serious he was, I agreed to report it.  On that beautiful day, I had my first racial interaction and learned about the terrible past of this great country.

In three of four classes I took during the fall semester, race or the issue of race was brought up and every time the narrative is always young black males getting caught up in the “system” or being targeted. I fit in that narrow category but for some reason, others are more worried about me than I am. Right after the 2016 presidential election my dear mother sent me a text saying that she’s terrified for me and she was sorry for bringing me into this country. I assured her that she has nothing to worry about and that I’m not worried at all. Life goes on, I will continue to live my life and work my ass off to get where I’m going!

I use myself as an example to understand issues and maybe that’s a mistake? I’m never the smartest person in the room by any means and I know I’m generalizing here but if a skinny Ethiopian kid can come to a foreign country, learn everything from scratch and be this successful, why can’t anybody else? What is the system?

My parents weren’t rich by any means; we were given everything we needed but anything we wanted such has phones, cars, video games, etc. we had to purchase it ourselves.

During the summer of 2016, I had a unique experience working for a lobbying firm in DC.  I was wearing a $500 suit and drinking bourbon that was so expensive I wouldn’t even entertain the idea of buying it myself. I had the time of my life, got to meet extraordinary individuals, hung out in the White House, got to talk to the chairman of Joint Chief of Staff General Dunford’s right hand man, who is arguably the 3rd most powerful individual in our military in the Pentagon. I drank on the Hill with Senators, Congressmen, foreign diplomats, and fortune 500 company CEOs.  What was interesting was that everywhere I went, I was either the only or one of two or three black men there and I didn’t even notice it until the owner of the firm asked me if I was okay or feeling comfortable. I said “Well yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” He said “For the most part, every where we go it’s bunch of old white guys and I want to make sure you’re feeling comfortable. Until now, I never had to think about this!” That is when I had a HOLY SHIT moment.

I got so used to being the only black guy everywhere I go or as I’ve been called on many occasions the Token, I never thought about it or let it hold me back. That same day, I went to the gym in Silver Spring, MD and there was not a single white person there. When I left the gym to go play basketball outside, the scene was stereotypical. Drugs and alcohol being consumed right in the open with kids running around, everyone dropping the F bomb like it was cool, but again, not a single white person there. I went home to shower and meet up with my friends from the motherland because they wanted to go out to an Ethiopian nightclub so I got to be Ethiopian. Who am I? Where do I belong? I felt right at home in D.C. because of the diversity but which crowd am I suppose to roll with? The crazy thing is, I felt more comfortable drinking beer in the United States Capital building with old white politicians than I did playing basketball with my own kind.

I know I’m not making sense, if anything I’m confusing you even more by now, but welcome to my world. I’ve been asking myself if I have a “privilege” and if yes, is it the same as white privilege? If I have privilege, would it be fair to compare myself to others?  I do have to admit even though it’s late in the story; the Marine Corps has opened a lot of doors for me. Maybe that could explain why I’ve been pulled over 18 times in 12 months and have received 0 tickets, even after driving 30mph over the limit.

The question I continue going back to is, if I can make it and live this lifestyle, why can’t everyone else?  Especially the young black males that are getting caught up in the system? Even if I was to pull the Marine Corps card, it doesn’t really explain a lot, I’m only Sergeant and there is nothing special about us in the military or anything we do. Our standards are higher in the Marines than everyone else’s but anybody can join and get their education paid for. But again, I understand that the military is not for everyone.

Ever since I was a child, all I wanted to be was a police officer. I want to help and protect people. I want to fight for the little guys, that is what makes me truly happy. Call me naïve and maybe I am, but I believe in the system. I have to. My goal is to work for FBI, DEA, ATF or Defense Intelligence Agency, but with what’s happening in this country and how divided we are, I’m thinking of state/city level. In fact I am taking the Mass State Police exam this month. I want to understand the issue that is dividing our law enforcement agencies from our communities and I want to start making changes where I can so our mothers across the country can sleep in peace at night!

I never thought about race or knew anything about racism until that day at recess. I had no idea this country had a dark past relating to racism. I wish I could say that was the last time I experienced racism or racial slurs but even now as an adult, I see it, just in a different forms.

I still have long ways to go to find myself, but thanks to the many students and professors in the Communication department, I’m awake. I’m paying attention and I’m searching for answers.

 

3rd place: Zachary Martin, Conversation Opera 

3rd place: Miranda Woods, That’s Not Normal

What is normal?

Am I normal now because I am college student?

Am I abnormal for sometimes wondering why I am here?

Am I normal because I am a white young woman?

Am I abnormal for feeling like I don’t belong?

What does it mean to belong?

Do I even want to belong?
To a society that is constantly telling us that we are not enough, I am not sure that I do.

Do I want to belong to a world that lives in war with one another?

Do I want to belong to an academia that views success as a competition?

Am I normal for having these feelings?

I certainly don’t feel all that “normal”

Do I belong to my body? The one I am trying to love but am constantly criticizing

Do I belong to my mind? The one I am, at times, a prisoner of

Do I belong to my heart? The one that has pure intentions but remains guarded

Do I belong to myself? Because I feel happiest when alone

I’m constantly caught between happiness and sadness, never one with out the other

I am striving for content, I am striving for peace

My wish, to feel as if I am home where ever I am

I want to live and love and not be afraid

I want to succeed, although I am still trying to figure out exactly what that means

That “normal” thing again

They say, to succeed you need to be “different” from the rest

But yet, you need to be “normal”- don’t stray outside of societal norms, or else

You’re “weird”, you’re “queer”, well you’re certainly not normal

Why would I ever want to be normal?

Why would I ever want to listen to someone else telling me what to do? What to think? Who to be?

Although I am not entirely sure who I am, I know who I am not

I am not someone who can be put into a box, I can not be defined

Although I am not entirely sure where I belong, I know where I do not belong

I will never belong in a space that judges others, or is ignorant to opinions other than their own

I am learning to form my own sense of belonging

And although I am sure that I am not “normal”, I am also sure that I never want to be

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