Baltimore Ravens Black History Month Essay Contest

Black History Month-NewPics__2400x1000

My Leap of Faith.

By: Nia Bryant, Grade 11

High School Division Winner

The success of a Black woman is a threat. Being an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist, are all seen as threats by many. Often targeted, I began to ask myself, "How have Black women persistently defeat the odds? How did the courage of Madam C.J Walker lead her to become America's first African-American self-made millionaire?" Self. Made. Millionaire.

Walker asserted, "Don't sit down and wait for opportunities to come. … Get up and make them". Walker's journey was to overcome the stereotype and perpetuation of fruitless Black women, incessantly disregarded, apprehensively dated centuries posterior, and fabricated into a mockery.

Becoming America's first African American self-made millionaire was not effortless. It wasn't given as a token for an exquisite 'American Dream'. Breaking those barriers in a male-dominated industry became a struggle. Walker's drive is what led her to well-deserved success.

Before Madam C.J Walker became who she is remembered today, she was born as Sarah Breedlove. Sarah was an enslaved African American, once an orphan, a teen mom, and a widow at 20. Against the odds, Sarah persevered, leading me to think "How have Black women persistently defeated the odds?" The simple answer would be the inevitable ability that Black women have, including myself, of supporting each other and recognizing lack of unity.

This, Madam C.J Walker, believed wholeheartedly, as the full ride of success wasn't free. From building her business from the ground up, community was always at heart. Specifically, catering to African Americans who suffered from hair loss, her products began business in 1906. Walker created a platform to teach African American women how to treat our hair, skin, and ourselves.

The perception of Black success is often ruled unattainable. The idea of a Black person succeeding in the early 1900s was game-changing. The misconception prevailed, creating a route of a superficial apprehension of an African-dominated society. Too often we see Black businesses struggling; in fact, over 41% of small Black-owned businesses say finances, debt, and health care doubled in 2022 alone, causing a halt to a Black business experiencing success.

However, these trials have not only taught us to become stronger but to strive and reach the climax of what seems to be unattainable. I understand firsthand as a young Black woman, entrepreneur, and student, pursuing a photography business how demanding it can be. I've come to a deep understanding with myself, believing that I can do anything I set my heart to, despite all of the reasons why I could fail. I took that leap of faith. I got up and made my own opportunities.

As I conclude, I ask my question again; How have Black women persistently defeated the odds? The answer is simple: under many folds of blood, sweat, and tears. The passion we hold in anything we do is truly indescribable. Many people will never have the patience, tenacity, and mindset that we hold. Believing and taking that leap of faith you've been contemplating will overcome stereotypes made against us.

For this I thank Madam C.J Walker.

The Impact of Ruby Bridges

By: Nhyla Miles, Grade 7

Middle School Division Winner

Black History Month sheds a much-needed light on black excellence within and beyond my community. Dedicated to the courage and perseverance of historical African American figures, this month highlights those remarkable individuals who fought to been seen as more than the color of their skin.

In second grade, I was introduced to Ruby Bridges through her book, RubyBridges Goes to School. I fell in love with her story and ultimately gained insight into her powerful mind. In November of 1960, at just six years old, Bridges was the first African American student to attend an all-white elementary school, William Frantz, in New Orleans. As such, she was met with nothing but hateful, ignorant, and crude comments and threats. As an elementary school student with low self-esteem, I often compared myself to the beautiful white girls in my class, not because of how smart they were, but because of how different I looked from them. As a black girl among a mostly white student body, I felt as though I needed to create an entirely new identity in order to receive what I craved most: acceptance. Constant glares and spiteful looks were pointed in my direction, tearing me down without a second thought. Walking through the halls, I felt singled out from my peers, just as Bridges was during her elementary school years. Despite the bullying, terrifying threats, and chaotic swarms of furious white parents, Bridges graduated from high school, became a travel agent, got married, had four sons, and wrote several empowering books. She developed the strength, gracefulness, and independence that make up the memorable historical figure that she is today. And in doing so, she modelled the kind of person that I aspire to be.

As an African American young lady, I strive to take advantage of the positive impact that Bridges had on the black community. Her story has opened my eyes to my self-worth and the beauty of my skin. Her story has enlightened me about the power that I hold in an ever-changing society. I have the power to achieve my dreams of becoming a singer and actor. I have the power to change lives, my own included. I know that there will be people who try to tear me down because of my race, but I refuse to let this harsh truth burden me any longer. No matter the obstacle, I will overcome it.

The Black Wall Street Massacre: How the Event Has Opened My Eyes and Given Me a New Perspective

By: Naomi Orimalade, Grade 10

High School Division Runner-Up

About a century ago, a well-developed community laid on the streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma. This district, called Greenwood, commonly known as Black Wall Street, was home to well-respected individuals, who were some of the wealthiest in the United States. This community thrived, and sought to further develop and grow as a whole. Although these ambitious desires were set in stone, they were all put to an end on the days of May 31st through June 1st, 1921. Mobs of residents went in and destroyed Black Wall Street, attacking the community's residents, personal properties, businesses, along with the district's cultural and public institutions. Subsequently, over 30 blocks were raided and burnt to ashes, leaving the inhabitants and members of this prestigious domain homeless. In total, the property loss amounted to about $31 million today, which stands as an understatement.

In today's world, we as a black race have failure almost "ingrained" in us. We are brought up to believe that society is not built for our success, which makes it difficult for people of color to thrive and develop. Although we may not realize this, some of us lower ourselves to this expectation, due to this limiting belief. We subconsciously pertain to this negative view, with absolutely no awareness that we are actively participating in our own demise as a community. From an early age, I've been commonly referred to as "whitewashed", by some of my peers and classmates. Apparently, the way I talk, my hobbies, and the way I conduct myself aren't "black enough." Before I discovered many other people with a similar experience to mine, I regularly felt the need to change myself, until I realized that I didn't need to change a thing at all.

Our ancestors were the very backbone of Black Wall Street. The district was heavily dominated by African-Americans who set the precedent for black success in America. When white mobs destroyed the district, it marked a shift in black success in the US. White residents of Tulsa were threatened by the community of Greenwood and couldn't stand to see those they relegated as "useless" rise above them. As a race, we still suffer the repercussions of Greenwood's destruction today. We do not have to abide by the idea that we cannot flourish as a race, that was set in place due to the jealousy of some white men. The stereotypes we have today stem from these racist ideas, and to advance, we cannot stoop down. How can we progress if we make fun of our own for not fitting into these racist boxes? I don't subscribe to the stereotypical "black girl" ideal, and I'm not any less of one. Our ancestors did not subscribe to any, and triumphed. Though they have been affected by oppression and we still suffer as a result, they don't define us, and we, together, can rise up once again.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: First Black Woman to Publish

By: Zoi Escobar, Grade 7

Middle School Division Runner-Up

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was an author, influential abolitionist, and suffragist who co-founded the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs in the 1800's.

She was the first African American woman to publish short stories and poems[1]something unheard of in that time period. Frances and I were both born in Baltimore and share similar life experiences. We are both devoted to writing and striving to make equal opportunities for all.

The poem, "Eliza Harris", was one of many published pieces Watkins Harper successfully shared with the world in the 1800's. In the stanza below, she reveals the many challenges she had to overcome as an African American woman.

She was nerved by despair, and strengthen'd by woe,

As she leap'd o'er the chasms that yawn'd from below;

Death howl'd in the tempest, and rav'd in the blast,

But she heard not the sound till the danger was past.

In 1859, Watkins Harper published a short story in the Anglo-African Magazine called "The Two Offers." The short story regarding racism, feminism and classism, became the first of its kind to be published by an African American woman during the civil rights movement. Her actions helped future authors, especially young, female authors to be inspired and work towards their voices being heard.

Despite her situation, she proved the inevitable could be accomplished. Watkins Harper shares how true pleasure isn't so much about having our wants come true, as it is about controlling our desires, growing to our maximum potential, and cultivating our entire selves. She created opportunities and provided inspiration to young ambitious authors such as myself, who have a desire for change.

When first reading her poem, I felt a sense of passion and connection to her life. The disadvantages she faced made me feel like I had someone to connect with. Learning about how Frances Ellen Watkins Harper got her work recognized[1]even though she had setbacks at first- motivates me to work harder to be successful. We both faced the disadvantages of growing up with non-typical families. She lost her parents at the young age of three.

Similarly, I too had a harder life, when my father left my family when I was three. Having a non-typical family can be difficult and even discouraging. It's hard to find someone who had the same goals, but also went through the same struggles as you. I look to her for inspiration because even though she had no one to go to when she needed it the most, she still accomplished amazing things. My goals as an author are to be recognized as a writer and gain this recognition at a young age just like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper did.

Learning about how Watkins Harper persevered through tough times inspires me to work harder to have my own work noticed, and published one day. For now, I enter different writing competitions and start sharing my love of writing with those around me.