Atlanta Atkinson – 16 year old junior

Atlanta Atkinson - 16 year old junior

Hello my name is Atlanta Atkinson. I just wanted to start by applauding my fellow peers for being courageous enough to speak out this week. I know that getting in front of everyone and speaking isn’t always easy, especially when speaking of topics so vulnerable. So thank you for having the strength to speak and share your thoughts and stories.

I’m here today to speak on behalf of the students that couldn’t and be a voice for the black community here at Naugatuck High School. Following the events of last weekend, many people in the community were shocked by the hateful comments made. Although these comments seemed shocking to many Naugatuck residents, they didn’t surprise me. Many people saw this as a slap in the face and were stunned as to how racism could possibly be in Naugatuck, but sadly for me and other members of the community hearing this type of stuff is our reality.  Whether it be from anonymous trolls online or ignorant and bigoted individuals, I and many other black students are too familiar with this type of rhetoric.

Becoming numb to hate speech, being forced to look past incidents like these, and being expected to move on because apologies were issued. Seeing these messages of hate especially as a child sticks with you and apologies won’t fix the harm and impact that has been made. Realizing that our lives and our struggles are turned into these sick jokes. Feeling the mix of humiliation and anger as we witness people who will never live with the fear of police or walk through the world carrying the weight we do making threats against our lives and passing them off as jokes, trying to fumble an excuse for it.

When I was eight years old I remember sitting in my living watching the case of Trayvon Martin. Looking at the faces of heartbreak as his murderer was acquitted. Not quite understanding how someone could get away with something like that. Seeing my grandmother cry as if she was mourning her own son as she looked at my brother and praying nothing like that would ever happen to him. I was eight when I first started to think about how might life might not matter as much as others’ lives. And this was only the beginning of the continuous heartache.

I had to see video after video of black people being harmed by police, quite literally watching the light go out of their eyes. Being traumatized by watching people who look like me, their deaths  trending, having those videos on our timeline like it was nothing more than another post.

Then having to see a peer spread these vicious remarks. Being so ignorant to our trauma and emotionally naive. Being reminded that some people will never truly get how it feels, never be forced to feel connected the way I do. For 16 years, I’ve navigated this world as a black woman and most of them while living in Naugatuck. I have watched how ignorance and biases can run rampant in our town. I have been afraid to speak up in fear of looking confrontational or aggressive, trying not to prove a stereotype.

It’s time to shed those fears and have a voice and not be afraid to use it. It’s time to call out racially insensitive comments and have these conversations as a community about why these actions will no longer be tolerated. It’s time to show true allyship. It’s not just enough to condemn this speech behind a screen but call it out in real-time. People aren’t born with hate or bias; it is learned so work must be done to unlearn these behaviors.

Stop thinking these are just jokes or dark humor because at the end of the day it harms our community in a way many will never know.