About a month ago, best friends Gianna Wood and Keyana Washington, both 17, were run off the road by a man driving a truck with a confederate flag license plate.
“He flipped us off and slung mud on our car, and we couldn’t help but think that it was just because of our skin color,” Wood said.
“We didn’t do anything – we were just trying to drive on the same road as him,” Washington added.
The girls, both students at Clovis North High School, had a chance to talk about these things at the African American Student Leadership & Educational Conference in Fresno on Tuesday. For them, it was a nice change from their typical school day.
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“At Clovis North, we don’t have a big African American population,” Wood said. “I don’t really see a lot of people who look like me every day. And sometimes it’s like you have to switch your views to fit into the group.”
The event, which included hundreds of students from across Fresno County, focused on obstacles faced by young black people and aimed to “change the narrative” of their lives, by fighting institutional racism and stereotypes.
You are part of a movement that has been in the making for a very long time.
FUSD Superintendent Michael Hanson at the African American Student Leadership conference
Speakers like Gerald Hankerson – an NAACP leader who was wrongfully convicted of murder when he was a teenager – encouraged students to fight for an education and career goals, regardless of others’ perceptions.
“No one believed me. No one wanted to hear my story or my explanation,” said Hankerson, who spent more than 20 years on death row before he was granted clemency by the state of Washington in 2009. “Before long you realize that the entire prison is filled up with black people. That’s where we’re the majority.”
Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said Tuesday’s event was about justice. The district’s black students score significantly lower than their peers on standardized tests and are disproportionately suspended and expelled.
“Let’s just call it what it is … it needs to be said so that we’re clear about what we’re up against. Our African American youth face hurdles in today’s society that other students don’t – my kids don’t,” Hanson said. “You are part of a movement that has been in the making for a very long time.”
Tuesday also honored Cedric Hardamon, former president of the United Black Men of Fresno and founder of the student-centered event, who died in 2015.
“(Hardamon) didn’t see color. He only saw potential in everyone, and inspired hope in all of us,” said Fresno County Superintendent Jim Yovino. “He called everyone mister or miss because he truly believed that we were all the same, and he used that title because it makes you somebody and makes people treat you differently. He said it was an equalizer.”