by Grace Brown ’17
One of the most talented speakers that have yet presented during my years at Athenian took the form of a man by the name of Shareef Nasir. He came to speak in honor of Black History Month regarding issues many people view controversial and sensitive. However, his approach towards these matters was filled with a thoughtful intellect that had been deeply rooted in his own experiences. Shareef has taught at high schools located in low-income, less-privileged areas where students are primarily students of color. At the beginning of his presentation, he relayed a short anecdote where he described the scene of his classroom, putting an emphasis on the students that he taught. A 16-year-old girl too pregnant to fit at her desk. A boy running in late to class with an excuse that his pit bulls got loose; this was close to the tenth time he was tardy in the last two weeks. These are the two students that I vividly remember him describing.
During his presentation, he touched upon the reason why these students are facing these problems. One of the most interesting theories that he synthesized from his comprehensive studies of African American history was that after the Emancipation Proclamation was created, the reintegration of freed black slaves into society was a large struggle. Shareef argued that there needed to be programs installed within the nation so that these previously enslaved peoples could be assisted with the difficult process of entering into an almost “unknown” society. He then circled back around to the students in the classroom and came to the realization that each of these students was a simple replica of the mistakes that had been passed down by generations since the late 1800’s. These mistakes not only being those of their ancestors, but also the mistakes our society has made in regards to African Americans.
After listening to him passionately speak with such true and empathetic understanding, I felt as though I had gained a newfound intelligence. I was able to hear a unique perspective that changed my views not only on African Americans, but also to the idea of poverty within the United States. It is interesting to explore the theory that the problems within today’s society are rooted from the blunders of people and events that have transpired in the past. Furthermore, his presentation had a greater effect on me because of the personal experiences that he was able to convey. After listening to Shareef, I am now able to look at poverty from another standpoint. I recognize that the people inside of these less-privileged situations have limited opportunities due to the places that their ancestors have originated from. This was an interesting angle to analyze such a controversial and melancholy topic. Shareef Nasir was successfully able to convey his information and ideas to Athenian in a way that caused our community to want to discover and learn more. I truly hope that he will consider revisiting our campus and holding a screening of the Malcolm X documentary that he is currently completing; it seems truly thought provoking.