A letter to Three

Dear incoming Black freshmen

On+a+trip+to+Chicago%2C+senior+Didi+Elsyad+and+a+friend+pose+for+a+picture+in+front+of+the+Cloud+Gate.

On a trip to Chicago, senior Didi Elsyad and a friend pose for a picture in front of the Cloud Gate.

Didi Elsyad, Guest Writer

It was just a rumor, but nevertheless, it was the spark that ignited a chain of conversations regarding TJ’s lack of diversity. 

“TJHSST Class of 2024 admits zero Black students.”

Being Black at TJ in the midst of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gave me a voice. I hope to shed some light on the issue of inclusiveness at TJ – an issue that has remained undiscussed for far too long. 

To those incoming Black freshmen – this one’s for you. 

Growing up, my parents always told me one thing; if you want to overcome the labels people will throw at you, education is the only way. 

Jefferson had been on my mind long before Fall of my eighth grade year. I was desperate to get in, but it had nothing to do with the Jefferson prestige; I needed a quality education that I didn’t think my base school could give me. Jefferson was my only shot at a good education. 

I remember talking about Jefferson with a friend in seventh grade. My teacher overheard and looked confused. “TJ? You know that school is for smart people, right?”  That comment reinforced my drive; I had to show that teacher that I was much more than I appeared to be. My parents were right; education was my only way to put up a fight. 

You’d think that when that fateful day came – when I opened up that email and saw “Congratulations!” in bolded letters – I should have been happy, but I wasn’t; I was scared. 

As an avid photographer, Elsyad enjoy taking photos of others.

I was scared because – more than just new friends and great opportunities – going to Jefferson meant being one of the only Black kids for four years – but it was base school or Jefferson. There was no choice to be made. 

But was I ready? As I walked along the track during PE, this question ran through my mind. Could I handle being a minority to that degree? I had confided in my gym teacher, who was walking alongside me. “You mean you haven’t realized that you’re a minority here, too? Look around. This school is six percent Black” – and he was right. But I never felt like an outcast. That conversation made me realize that being an outcast is more of a mindset than a reality. So I prepared my mental armor and said yes to Jefferson. I know I don’t look the part, but I can play the part.

I couldn’t even fight back. Anytime I considered speaking up, I looked around, just to realize that, yet again, there was usually no minority in sight. Even if I did speak up, would those around me support me? Ignore me? Brush me off as being too sensitive? I didn’t want to find out, so I kept my mouth shut.

By the time Junior year rolled along, I had learned to forget about being Black, but in light of recent events, my Blackness was shoved in my face yet again – though, this time I embraced it. I initiated conversations regarding TJ’s lack of diversity, but what people said shocked me. Whether they said Black people were “less talented” or “less qualified than other races” the message was clear; discussions alone would not be enough.

To some, diversity is a tool to avoid criticism. To others, diversity means stealing spots from “more qualified” racial groups. But to me, diversity means feeling like I belong. To me, diversity is worth fighting for.

I’ve done a lot of work towards the long term solution – volunteering with kids and STEM is something I enjoy – but it’s time that I start fighting for a solution for tomorrow. 

It has been one month since BLM took the media by storm, and I’ve found myself in the middle of so much potential for change, from joining a Jefferson Alum network that aims to fix this diversity issue at Jefferson once and for all, to being appointed an officer of a free Jefferson prep club for minorities.

I don’t know where I am going – where all this is going to take me – but I can feel change coming. I have hope that TJ will one day be a welcoming place for all. 

To those incoming Black freshmen – to all the Black students to come, and to everyone that feels like they might not belong; I can’t change my past, but I promise I will change your future. 

Did I fit in here? No – but where’s the fun in that? I belong, and you belong too; that’s what matters. You might have some rough moments, but trust me, you’ll look back and be happy you made it through. 

I believe in you. 

Be proud that you are a Colonial, but most importantly, be proud of who you are.

Love, 

Didi