Tessa Solomon '23

The Difference Between Understand and Understanding

The Difference between Understand and Understanding title card
"As a high school student, Solomon participated in the Olympia Snowe Women's Leadership Institute. Senator Snowe featured Solomon's essay in the organization's summer 2020 newsletter."

I CAN ONLY SPEAK from my own experience. Growing up in Maine, I have a very unique experience compared to most of my family who grew up in the inner cities, but we will get there.

Growing up in Maine. The first time I can recall being called “the N word” I was four. At the time I obviously had no idea what this meant but what I did know was the effect it had once I went home. The argument between my mother, who is white, who was outraged and yelling and mad at my dad, who is Black, because he was not even surprised. That argument and the yelling and the fear it put in me didn’t just last a day. This tension and argument went on for a week, and that uneasy feeling was carried with me for the rest of my life. Until recent events, I had suppressed that memory of the event because of the trauma it caused me once I came home.

When I entered school. Most of my life, I was the ONLY Black kid (yes Black, it’s okay, you don’t have to say person of color. I am not ashamed, I say white, should I say, person of no color?) in the classroom during February, Black History month. I felt this uneasiness again when every eye, including my teachers’, was on me, as if somehow, by talking about the history, my presence made them uncomfortable, which in turn, made me uncomfortable.

Events like this so young, have an impact on you, on your subconscious, that you don’t even realize. I remember going to the beach as a kid with my mom and crying because I didn’t want to get tan, I didn’t want to get dark, because I didn’t think people would like me if I was “too dark.” I remember my mom being so mad and hurt and telling me people would love to have my skin, this and that, but my subconscious was already scarred by the events that I didn’t even know had any correlation.

Text that reads: "Since leaving the Senate in 2013 at the end of her third six-year term, Olympia Snowe ’69, ’82 Hon. L.H.D. has committed herself to helping future generations of young women become leaders through the establishment of the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute. The Institute, based in Portland, ME, launched in 2015 to create a meaningful leadership experience for 10th-12th grade girls. The mission of the Institute is to raise the confidence and aspirations of high school girls by helping them develop the skills required to be leaders in their lives, families, careers, and communities. The Institute is designed to address the statistic that girls are losing confidence 3.5 times faster than boys as they transition from middle to high school. “Olympia’s Leaders,” as participants are called, engage in unique programming blending statewide events, experiential activities in small groups, individual development and reflections, and tailored connections and networking with Maine’s business and community leaders. Throughout the three-year program, each Olympia’s Leader is supported by trained volunteer advisors who facilitate monthly activities and serve as mentors and role models. In the fall of 2020, 97 percent of graduating Olympia’s Leaders began higher education, training, and certificate-bearing programs, or military service. Of the 300 young women who have participated in the Institute’s program since it began, 42 have enrolled at the University of Maine, 91 have enrolled at a school within the University of Maine System, and 197 have stayed in Maine."

I REMEMBER WATCHING Black men and Black women losing their lives on the news and my mind taking me to that place of, “what if that was my dad, my brother, my uncles, my family?”

I relive that fear and that pain evey time I witness those reports. I also know the anxiety in my chest when I’m in the passenger seat of the vehicle, with my dad in the driver seat and my little brother in the back seat, when we got pulled over going to a

 softball clinic. I can still feel it just writing this. But why? I know good officers. Why is it that I’m filled with anxiety when we are stopped on the side of the road with one? Because that is what I’ve grown up watching.

I would never wish for someone to understand those events, but I do wish for people to be understanding of those events and the impact that they had and continue to have on me and my mind.

The media today only wants to show us part of the story. It is important for us to see the wrong going on in our country. It is just as important for us to see the good that is going on in our country. To the mainstream media, when you ONLY show me violence, when you ONLY show me looting, when you ONLY show me killings of officers and citizens I am filled with anger, I am filled with fear, and I am driven by these feelings to reciprocate that same kind of energy. What happens if you ALSO show me what really happens during real moments of peaceful protest that are happening throughout our country? When you show me officers who walk with their people, when you show me, when you show US, moments when our people are coming together, it inspires unity, it inspires hope, it inspires peace, and you will receive that same kind of energy and you will show the people how to be peaceful and how to come together instead of instilling hate and anger in our hearts and showing us how to be violent. We NEED to be shown how to come togethe

r, not how to place blame on our officers or to place blame on the looters and the protestors. We need to place blame on ourselves because until each loss is as valued as the next, the problems we are seeing in our country will continue. We cannot find the corrupt by becoming corrupt.

To the mainstream media, you are keeping us divided and I am asking you to change.

The statement “Black Lives Matter” is not Black lives matter more, it encompasses the sense that Black lives ALSO matter which affirms the statement “All Lives Matter” that many like to use as a defense mechanism because they do not understand the depth of the phrase. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” is not saying that they matter more. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” is to address the issue that the statement “All Lives Matter” is not being upheld.

THIS WHOLE CONVERSATION is deep. This whole conversation has depth. Because, once we win this fight, which minority group is next? We are fighting for something bigger. We are fighting to end prejudice. We are fighting for the people, for all people.

It is easy for me to be angry and hateful and to place blame, but once you get to that place, you lose sight of the good you’re trying to bring about, the change you want a need to see. I don’t have the quick fix answer for you. But what I do know, is that for a change to happen, we have to start with looking inward at ourselves and asking the question, how can I be better? How can I, when I don’t understand, be more understanding? M


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