AspenX is an opportunity for high school students to take a deep dive into critical topics of the day through virtual and experiential learning and moderated in-person dialogue. Zion Lee participated in an AspenX seminar experience on race and equity in New Orleans, LA in March 2018 and reflected on his experience.
Over the weekend of March 23 – 24, 2018, I learned about racial and cultural histories of southeastern Louisiana that I had very little knowledge of through experiential learning at Le Musée de f.p.c and the New Orleans Museum of Art. At Le Musée, for example, learning that Black women owned so much property in the New Orleans area helped explain why they are so strong and, arguably, running the world today. Insights like this one left me wanting to learn more and created a pathway to a weekend full of receiving new knowledge.
Hearing students from all walks of life give their perspectives on the world opened my mind to look beyond surface explanations to the more dynamic, gray areas of issues. As a Black Irish male, I am constantly told there is no way I can be Irish because my skin isn’t pale, or because my hair isn’t orange. My dominant race isn’t even Black, but since my skin looks that way, people make incorrect assumptions. AspenX made me understand that instead of arguing with people who are imprisoned by their own lack of knowledge, I should educate them on the danger of making judgements about people with incomplete information.
No matter what anyone says, race influences everyone’s future. I never understood what that meant until I attended AspenX. First, people assume they can’t succeed because of the color of their skin. Throughout that weekend, I tried to help my peers understand that even people of color who have experienced success struggle with others making assumptions about them because of their skin color. So, we must take what we want, like successful lifestyles and fair treatment, and not wait for it because in waiting, we’re going to miss out on opportunities.
Second, well-educated, hard-working people of color want to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but they come to understand that being rich gives you the power to rent your happiness not buy it. They may look like they’re having fun, but they know they must overcome obstacles just to stay where they are or to get to the next level.
After being educated further by the AspenX family, I no longer feel like opportunities are out of my reach because they are too advanced or populated mostly by people of a race different than my own. I go for everything, and in getting or not getting those things, I leave knowing I put everything on the table and gave 120 percent.
I’m glad I attended the AspenX seminar, because if it wasn’t for its warm environment and comforting acceptance, I would not have had an outlet to express my ideas on issues that I feel strongly about. In continuing this conversation, my group and I came up with an idea to help educate our peers on issues including racism, sexism, language, religion, sex education, politics, and abuse.
We want to create a workshop called American Taboo for elementary through and college students that would be taught by someone old enough to teach and help students, but young enough to understand what they go through every day. This unique starting point can change how the world sees difference by giving students space to talk about the things America won’t. I’m very appreciative of AspenX for doing that for us and for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of conversations I will always remember.