Hey APC! My name is Skye Jackson-Williams, I’m a Belizean- American woman from New York City, and I’m 18 years old. Growing up in Harlem and later moving to the Bronx kept me surrounded by raw artists and specifically hip hop culture. I am a trained technical and hip hop dancer, but freestyle is where I feel the most authentic. Besides dance, I love to write and make and direct creative videos. I want to be known for my artistry and storytelling.
This essay I wrote shows my story of growing up in Harlem and the valuable lessons I learned about community. My parents told me the story of the Exonerated Five when I was mature enough to understand the injustices that black and brown people have been going through for centuries. Seeing Korey Wise now and hearing stories about Antron McCray, family friends, along with personal stories from my friends affects me deeply. Living in Harlem, like these men, showed me the importance of speaking up and protecting your own. We need to stand for one another despite outside forces trying to oppress our people. This message is still relevant today as we protest for Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Oluwatoyin Salau, Justin Howell, Elijah McClain, Jamel Floyd, Sean Monterrosa, Malcolm Harsch, Robert Fuller, Dominique Alexander, and so many more we may not know about.
There is no place as culturally vibrant as Harlem, the “Black Mecca” of the world. My mother and father grew up in Harlem right across the street from one another, my dad on 110th and Fifth Ave and my mom on 111th. Growing up in Harlem, I created unbreakable bonds with neighbors and friends, that when I return to visit my grandparents, it feels as if I had never left.
This summer I ran into Korey Wise, a Harlem hero, on my old block. He was walking behind me, head down, staring at his feet as he took each step. I was nervous to approach him because I didn’t think he would remember me, but the families hanging out on their steps and the guys standing in front of the building and sitting on the cars all saluted Korey with the classic black man “dap up.” His resilience, hope, and strength inspire me. I always aim to keep my spirits up no matter what I am going through. Having a positive attitude not only affects you but the people you are surrounded by. I left the block with a gigantic smile on my face because seeing people who don’t even know each other lift another man’s spirit is something everyone needs to practice. I’m so lucky to have grown up there because I learned what a community is and how it should feel. Everyone is there for one another despite the outside forces trying to oppress our society.
Watching the miniseries on The Central Park Five over the summer touched my heart in a way no film ever has. My dad, who is good friends with Korey, used to drive him around the city in the sweltering summer’s heat as I sat in the back seat jamming. I was too young to understand the story of what those five young boys went through. My parents told me the story of the infamous Central Park Five when I was mature enough to understand the injustices that black and brown people have been going through for centuries. Seeing the story played out and hearing personal stories from my family about being friends with these men affected me deeply. It made me realize that if we don’t abolish systemic racism, black people who look like me, and my friends, and my family will continue to be oppressed and criminalized.
My dad on multiple occasions has been harassed by the police for just being a black man. Witnessing my father getting roughed up made me feel powerless. I am not the only kid who’s grown up this way. Experiences like this and hearing traumatizing stories in the media daily is my wakeup call. I want to be the person who can advocate for young adults and children like Korey Wise; kids who are raised in neighborhoods with police staggered on every corner, terrorizing poor communities, kids who weren’t taught their civil rights, kids who live in environments where the adults don’t care about their futures, kids who deserve better than what’s been given to them. I am grateful for the life that I have, but I know there are numbers of families, students, and kids struggling. We must always remember what we can do for others. I am learning to be selfless, empathetic, and passionate for myself as well as others because life is more than just me. This shows when I volunteer at soup kitchens or plan parties for the youth in my community. It’s privileged and elitism to neglect the problems society faces if they do not involve you directly. If you are not acting on something, you are being acted upon. I remind myself to be the change I seek and the people will follow.