By Nia Renee Gilbert

The “American Dream” is bullshit.

Well, maybe it’s not complete bullshit. But the way it is taught and known here in the U.S., it is.

For many Americans, we are taught the “American Dream” at a young age. We learn that the Dream consists of a house, car and career. Also at a young age, we are assigned an American identity. Most of us are taught from one American identity about another American identity.

This is my beef with the American Dream and the teaching of American identity: It has been warped into the Common-White-American Dream/Identity. The White American Dream is usually solely on material things while a black person’s Dream, while including material things, is often rooted in the wish to stay alive past the age of 18:

To not be killed while in police custody. The hope to be treated equally in the work place. To not be the designated speaker for their whole race. To not have to “tone down” their hair. To not have their culture be constantly appropriated. To be able to play their music loud without being killed. To have their hands up and not be killed. To walk home without being killed. To not be killed for a failure to signal. To not be killed for selling loose cigarettes. To not be killed in the park. To not be killed in our homes.

To not be killed.

While a house, car, and career are goals to strive for, this is not the only dream we should try to achieve in America. My wish is that we defeat white supremacy, get young black boys and girls to love themselves, and awaken those who think we live in a post-racial society.

My name is Nia, and I got a chance to awaken some of those very people this past week. As an African-American teen, a junior at University High School (UHigh), a predominately white high school in Central Illinois, I find myself constantly feeling out of the loop of privileged kids. From the moment Trayvon Martin’s killer was let off the hook, I felt like there was a silent, unmentioned battle between me and my white peers.

Though there weren’t any fights, riots or physical altercations, I still felt hostility between the black students and the white students, as well as the white teachers. Not only in my school, but I witnessed it across the nation as a whole– after the poisoning of Flint; Baltimore’s riots; and after the murder of Freddy Gray. Even now, as Donald J. Trump is running for president, I feel like the entire nation is engulfed in racial tension. Though tension between races is not something new, it has been harder to address due to the denial of racism existing in the 21st century.

Anyway, at my school, the support for the black students and their culture is nearly non-existent. I found myself in the principal’s office nearly every day this year to discuss ways we can promote the greatness of minorities. After little change, I realized all efforts would have to be made BY the people, FOR the people.

After a tiring day of classes, I was on my way out of the door when I got a text from my homegirl. “We just don’t matter at all anymore, huh!” with an attached photo taken at my school. It was a picture of a Black Lives Matter sign with “Black” crossed out and the word “All” over it.  After finding out who made the painting, maybe it was fate, but me and a group of friends ran right into that person and proceeded to have an intense conversation about the purpose of Black Lives Matter and the message behind changing it to All Lives Matter.

Needless to say, this student’s mind on the matter wasn’t changed, so we all parted ways. I was extremely bothered, though by some of the misconceptions they expressed regarding oppression (that it wasn’t real), racism (that it didn’t exist), and black lives matter (that it was putting black people above all other races).

That night, we started a group chat of about 15 students to discuss how we could combat the controversy and support the minority students at UHigh. The group chat quickly grew from 15 to 30 to 80 members- all filled with minority students, white allies, and whoever else was interested in learning more about Black Lives Matter. Through this group chat, each person’s voice was heard. Each idea and story was valued. Though it was through social media, this was the first time many black students felt like they could speak openly in a safe space. We ultimately decided to host a school-wide “blackout” to show solidarity for the black community and to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

During the course of the week, we spread the word of the blackout like a fire. To my surprise, many teachers and students were fully on board with the event, seeing it as a way to educate those who were not socially conscious. The Uhigh blackout shifted from being solely promoted through word of mouth to being plastered all over social media with the tag #BlackLivesMatterAtUhigh. Likes, shares and retweets are how we gained most of our support for the blackout.

However, the next day at school on Thursday, most of us experienced dirty looks, nasty slurs and push back from the All Lives Matter crowd. The posters we made promoting the blackout at my high school were ripped, crumpled up and thrown onto the floor. Multiple students were called to the office to make sure we “wouldn’t make anyone uncomfortable for not wearing black.” The pushback against us having the blackout was intense and confusing, being that it was promoting equality for black students, thus promoting equality for ALL students.

Nia Gilbert: This is me the day of the black-out… same day I got my driver’s license!

Friday came and each of us was prepared to battle ignorance and negativity with our gear of research, knowledge and personal experience. About 350 of the 600 students rocked their black, and all but 10 teachers wore black. I cannot explain how incredible it felt to walk past peers wearing black and acknowledging each other as allies or teammates in a game that was stacked against us. Of course, there was a group of students who wore white in protest to our movement.

However, they themselves realized how foolish they looked. Racial conversations were sparked, not only in the hallways, but the classrooms as well! The local news station got word of our movement, and came to interview a few from the group on what we were doing, and how it was significant in relation to how our minority population is nearly non-existent.

Alums of Uhigh took to social media, sharing how proud they were of attending a school where its students would show solidarity for such a timely issue. There was an overwhelming feeling of love floating around the school that day. I will never forget it.

At the end of the day, a group of the Black Lives Matter crew kicked it in a supporting teacher’s classroom. We ate snacks and discussed how the day went and ways we could improve, if we were to throw another event promoting #BlackLivesMatter. I was extremely grateful for the support of Black Lives Matter from so many students, faculty and the community. (A junior high caught wind of the blackout and initiated one for their school as well!).

Check out some of the photos from that day of teachers and students who supported!

Black lives matter is a movement each of us should support. Due to the higher rate at which we are discriminated against and killed, it needs to be made publicly known that black lives do indeed matter. Though our movement may have only touched a small community on Friday through the form of a blackout, it is much bigger than us. It is a message that we will make sure our elders know, our peers know, our children know, and our children’s children know.

Black people are beautiful. Black people are loved. Black lives matter.

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