“I first want to start off by saying that I am honored to be standing in front of you today. When I was your age, I would have never imagined that as a person born and raised in Mississippi, at the age of 26, I would be standing at a podium in the Rhode Island State House accepting an award. But it because of students like yourselves and students that have not yet found their voices, that I'm here.
The work that you've put into your projects this year speaks volume. You all are asking all the right questions and demanding that we as adults provide you with the answers. I'm sure while working on a lot of your projects, you've asked your teachers "How did we get here?" " Why is the world like this?" Your projects today are tackling issues such as LGBTQ Rights, gang violence, bullying, lack of teachers of color, etc. but these issues cannot be addressed without calling out the root cause. We live in a capitalist society that feeds off of oppression. The oppressors feed off of keeping you as students of color marginalized or shut out and as long as we continue to accept labels that are given to us, we will continue to nourish the bodies of the greedy.
When you enter back into your classrooms and push this very important work forward, I ask each of you to strip away the labels that you've been given and begin to choose titles that make you proud and amplify your voice. You are not a low-income student. You are a hustler. You are not a minority. You are the majority. You are not a failing student. You are resilient. You are not just a student in an "urban" school district but instead you are a warrior fighting against a school system that was not built for you and you are succeeding despite that.
You are Queens and Kings and you should be treated as Queens and Kings.
Before I leave you today I want to emphasize the importance of education and the work that you are doing around civic engagement. Civic engagement does not end when you complete your projects. Just like education does not end once you graduate high school. Education is one of the most powerful tools that you can use in life. No one can take away from you what you’ve learned. No one can defeat you but yourself. Throughout your journey in life, I want you to never give up on yourself, never compare yourself to others, and always think ahead with your end goal in mind. Don’t dwell on your current situation if it’s not what you expected it to be because ultimately you determine your future. Your path will be completely different from the person next to you and even if it takes extra time or extra help to complete your goals, know that it will be worth it in the end. I am proud of the work that you all have presented today. I wish you all a prosperous future and I hope that none of you ever accept defeat.”