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What it's Like to be Black at USM

What it's Like to be Black at USM

Members of the Upper School’s Black Student Union hosted a panel discussion with 9th and 10th grade students, sharing their personal experience of being a Black student at USM.

Public speaking is nerve-wracking for just about anyone, but especially for teenagers sharing their very personal experience of what it’s like to be Black at their predominantly white school. Members of the Black Student Union at University School of Milwaukee overcame their nerves and hosted a panel discussion with 9th and 10th grade students. Their goal for the event was to hold an open-ended conversation with their peers, establish a legacy within the Upper School, and continue to work towards making USM a more inclusive environment for students of color.

Students speak on a panel to share their experiences of being Black at USM.

From left: Emily Igwike '24, Neema Mollel '24, Zindzi Frederick '23, Jordan Thomas '23, and Gregory Smith '22.

“Leading up to it I felt really nervous,” said panelist Neema Mollel ’24, “because I knew I had to speak authentically about my personal experience with my peers—people I would see and talk to outside of this panel. And I didn’t know what they would think of me or this discussion.”

At the beginning of the event, the atmosphere was charged. The panelists didn’t know how the audience would react, and the audience didn’t know what the panelists would say. Nothing like this had been done before at USM, and everyone was nervous.

Panelist Gregory Smith ’22 addressed the issue head on: “There’s this fear of making people uncomfortable,” he said, “but imagine how we feel sitting up here. It’s going to be uncomfortable for everybody, but we’ll make it through.” After Smith acknowledged the elephant in the room, the tension receded.

The discussion was moderated by Emily Igwike ’24, who presented a set of questions to Mollel and Smith, as well as panelists Zindzi Frederick ’23 and Jordan Thomas ’23. The questions covered a range of topics, including what it is like to be a Black student at USM, whether they feel comfortable voicing their concerns at school, and if they feel supported by their peers.

The reaction from the event was largely positive, with panelists earning well-deserved praise from teachers, administrators, and students. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, especially once we all got comfortable sitting up there,” said Mollel. “I would definitely do it again.”

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