SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Nearly six months after the death of George Floyd, a group of girls at a local high school is reminding us that black lives still matter.
Washington High schoolers Mariam James, Antoinette Bita, Rahele Megosha and Agnes Kabwali aren’t warriors because it’s their school’s mascot, it’s because every day they’re fighting for racial justice and equality for the Black community.
“We’re kind of trying to find a way to bring the topic up because a lot of people– again, it’s a sensitive topic to bring up because a lot of people might be alarmed by it other people might not be comfortable talking about it,” Bita said.
Growing up as young black women in South Dakota, they say they’ve all experienced racism in some form.
“You grow up and realize there’s been so many instances in your life where you’ve been treated with micro-aggressions or like, people have been talking slowly to you,” Megosha said.
“You know, the only thing they know about us is that our ancestors were slaves… and that’s literally it,” Kabwali said.
“And they expect you to have an opinion on it,” Megosha said.
“Yes. That’s like the thing they always attack us about is that, ‘Your ancestors were slaves. That’s all about you guys,'” Kabwali said.
“Sometimes it’s easier – especially when you’re around other black people who can kind of relate to you,” Bita said.
Last year, Kabwali, Bita, and James formed the Student Union Empowerment group at their school.
“It’s just a place where we can be comfortable and anybody is welcome who’s open-minded and who is willing to share an opinion and learn more about the black history,” Kabwali said.
The group has done many projects at school to highlight black representation. From hanging flags that represent different cultures around their school, to filling the display case with iconic historical figures for Black History Month.
“The last day of Black History Month, we had a little celebration with different cultural foods and music,” James said.
“I feel like a lot of people have really taken into that and taken something away from it,” Bita said.
Despite finding success in empowering others, Bita goes on to say there is still a lack of understanding.
“When we did the display case, we did have a teacher telling us that we were taking to long to finish it and that, like, the month is going to be over before we’re done with it, which is kind of weird because celebrating black-ness isn’t something that lasts for the twenty-eight days of February, it continues going on,” Bita said.
This issue has always been there, but has really taken notice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd that happened in May of 2020; An incident that sparked fear for each of them.
“I remember I couldn’t really get sleep or anything because I always felt scared for my brothers, and my dad, and all the males in my family,” James said.
But they also see this as a chance to spark meaningful conversations amongst their peers.
“We need to turn this into something for the better and something that we can adjust and, at least, make life a little easier, and create a little more equality. But, I feel like it has kickstarted younger people, like us, to get up and do something about it,” Megosha said.
The teenagers have been involved in groups performing peaceful protests, and putting up chalk murals around town. But, with continued violence against black people involving police around the country, there is a fear that it could desensitize people to the issues still at hand.
“When the whole Breonna Taylor hashtag and the whole movement came along, I only saw that for, like, three weeks, then it just disappeared of social media,” James said.
But the group refuses to let the conversation end there. Along with the school’s empowerment group, Megosha is working on a diversity program at her school to give all students equal room to express themselves and share their stories.
“What it is is partially creating that subgroup of all of our activities here at Washington and create student advocates for all those groups, and, basically, we all sit down and discuss how to make Washington better,” Megosha said.
The group says, one of the biggest ways is to continue the conversation about race and equality in everyday life.
“Even if your mom, your dad, your uncle, your cousin, your best friend, your neighbor, if they’re being racist or saying something that you know is offensive toward Black people, or Asians, or whoever, call it out. Don’t be silent because the more you’re silent the more they’re going to think that’s ok,” James said.
And not chastise one another for lack of understanding and furthering the divide, but, rather, try to educate.
“Even this interview itself, I feel, is a good start to… talking about this. To getting it off the ground. To making this something that needs to happen, that should happen, that should’ve already happened, you know?'” Megosha said.
Even though they’ve had their own experiences, that doesn’t mean you should assume they know it all either.
“Just being Black doesn’t mean I know everything about Black people. It doesn’t mean I know everything. So, I’m still educating myself while trying to inform other people and trying to see other ways we can help out in the community,” Bita said.
Right now, it seems difficult to have a conversation about change, but it takes several of those conversations to make change happen.
“We need to be able to be more comfortable in trying to talk about those things. Normalize those conversations,” Megosha said.
“Even though it’s uncomfortable, you have to do it. For us to move forward and for us to get past this we have to have those uncomfortable conversations whether it’s with your family, your friends, or your teachers; it’s really important,” James said.
To hear more on how you can help continue the conversation, we have a special page on KELOLAND.com.