February 22, 2021
Black Lives Matter by Amber Morales, YPIE Scholar 2028
In this Issue
YPIE QuaranTimes Staff
Salamatu Lawal, Editor-in-Chief and Pandemic News Editor
Catarina Mendes, Politics Editor
Julia Azulay, Entertainment and Lifestyle Editor
Alyssa Lee, Our Voices Heard Editor
Shemar Forbes, Layout Editor and Director of Communications
Yismel Castro, Layout Editor
Hillary Diaz Castillo
Welcome to the YPIE QuaranTimes
We at the YPIE QuaranTimes strongly believe that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color should not only be cherished during a specific month, but year-round; hence our title for this Volume. As you navigate our newsletter, we hope you gain a better insight on the Black experience.
Old Town Road by Shemar Forbes, YPIE Scholar 2025
History of Race in America
By Catarina Mendes, YPIE Scholar 2025
The United States has long been a racially divided nation, and this is not something that can be quickly submerged under a pile of reconciliatory actions. In fact, many across our country are still unwilling to make peace with their fellow countrymen simply because of the color of their skin. From the beginning of its history up until the present day, the United States has been a country steeped in racial inequality. Though there is no doubt things have improved considerably as we have progressed forward and rethought old, harmful mindsets, it is also clear, even from the events of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, that the long, arduous journey is not over, and perhaps will not be for many years to come.
The U.S.’s history of racism against Blacks dates back to even before it had gained independence from Great Britain, when as early as 1619 slave traders brought the first enslaved Africans over to the then colony of Virginia. The people on board were forced to endure inhumane conditions including being chained and packed extremely close together. Some attempted to drown themselves, believing that death was better than what they were being forced to endure. This one ship, which had roughly 20 Africans upon arrival, marked the beginning of hundreds of years of brutal, dehumanizing abuse of Africans across the colonies, particularly in the middle and Southern colonies, where rural farming communities were more common and therefore more labor was desired.
Slavery became a widespread, societally accepted, government-sanctioned part of life and production of goods in the U.S. Many supported arguments that justified it, including that Africans were inferior or their way of life was not as sophisticated as that of the West.
The government was largely supportive of the practice for many years, passing laws referred to as slave codes. These laws were put in place to further restrict the freedoms of the already enslaved people. Strict control was maintained over every aspect of the lives of Africans in the colonies and later states. They were not allowed to learn to read or write, to leave their owner’s property without permission, to defend themselves against a white person if attacked, or gather without a white person present, among other things.
If an enslaved person ran away, considerable efforts were made to find him or her, and it was illegal to hide one. As the colonies became a free country, the 3/5ths Compromise was created, which, for tax and representation purposes, diminished the worth of a slave to 3/5ths of a whole person. Slave catchers, which later became the foundation for our modern-day police force, were even employed. For any fraction of perceived disobedience, enslaved people could expect severe punishment, and some even died. Every effort was made to extinguish their culture as well, with restrictions on culturally relevant activities such as talking and singing. Many enslaved people worked extremely long, grueling hours in the fields.
Because the Northern colonies did not rely as much on slave labor and were more industrialized, people there seemed to be more tolerant of Africans, which would generally continue into the 20th century. Many enslaved people were able to escape to the Northern colonies, where they found refuge, or buy their freedom and relocate there. Many efforts were made to free slaves from their bondage, with the most notable being the Underground Railroad Network led by Harriet Tubman. A considerable amount of both Black and white people joined the abolitionist movement in a fight to end slavery. People did their best to spread information and educate people on the injustice that was slavery.
Eventually, Civil War broke out, a large contributing factor of which was the issue of slavery. The Southern states worried about the potential abolition of slavery and the negative effects it would have on their way of life. After a four-year-long grueling fight, the North, known as the Union then, emerged victorious. As the war was coming to an end, President Abraham Lincoln was able to create the Freedmen’s Bureau with the approval of Congress. It was, of course, met with resentment from some white Southerners who wanted to maintain a specific social order which did not allow for the rise of Africans. As a result of the war, President Lincoln abolished slavery by way of the 13th Amendment, and the Bureau helped newly freed people adjust.
While the abolishment of slavery was a huge victory for Africans all across the nation, it did not mean the fight was over. Especially in the South, Africans still had to deal with hostility from their white counterparts.
Slavery may have been made illegal, but the deep roots of racism that it had allowed to take hold would not be so easily removed. In an effort to continue a centuries-long system of oppression, Southern States began passing laws known as Black Codes, meant to serve as a form of continued social control over Black people. These laws continued to prevent Black people from engaging in many day-to-day activities like voting, jury duty, and even sometimes renting land. They perpetuated economic bondage as well, preventing Black people from advancing beyond a certain threshold.
While slavery may have been outlawed, southerners still found many ways to keep Black people trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of inequality. For example, they were often forced to sign contracts with employers that very closely resembled the conditions of slavery, and could again face severe punishment if the contract was not honored. The physical chains that had held them in bondage as captives had now manifested as social chains preventing them from gaining a proper foothold in society.
After the Civil War, desperate to maintain economic and political control and superiority, many Southerners banded together and formed the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), which still exists today. The KKK was and is a terrorist hate group that is meant to instill fear in Black people and other minorities and further the White supremacist agenda. It had developed a widespread network with wide reach, and Southerners were actively engaging in terrifying acts of violence against Black people in order to perpetuate their own agenda and ideologies. Black people were at risk of being lynched and were often seen as suspicious, which can still be seen in current times.
As the years went by, racism towards Black people was still extremely prevalent and influenced many areas of life. Black people have continued to this day to fight for the rights white people have already been afforded simply because of the color of their skin. They have faced resistance, often violent, all along the way. However, the ongoing epidemic of racism that has plagued this nation led to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. The organization is the largest of its kind in the U.S. and continues to be a force for change and a resource hub within the Black community.
Throughout the late 1800s and most of the 1900s, racist laws meant to continue the oppression of Black people were still widespread. Under Jim Crow Law, segregation became the norm across the country. Of course, this meant that white people usually had access to better facilities, for example, schools. This no doubt helped in preventing Black people from gaining influence in society, as their education was often much lower quality than that of White students. If they resisted segregation, Black people could even be arrested and charged with a crime. As segregation persisted, angry citizens decided to fight back. The Civil Rights movement afforded Black people many victories after years of hard work. The practice of segregation was beginning to be dismantled. In order to achieve this momentous legal victory, many Black people worked tirelessly, facing arrest, assault, and even the threat of death in some cases. The Civil Rights Movement catapulted many Black leaders to the forefront of the movement and created figures that are still celebrated today, such as Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr.
In more recent times, there is no denying that the effects of racism have become a little quieter in some regards. Society as a whole generally tends to be far less accepting of a blatantly racist attitude. However, this by no means indicates that racism has disappeared. In fact, racism is still very much alive and well in this country, as evidenced by the continued implementation of policies and tactics that put Black people at risk and prevent them from having access to the same privileges afforded to white people.
It has long been known that Black people are significantly more likely to be incarcerated and that their sentences for crimes are often much harsher than if a white person had committed the same crime. Bills such as the 1994 Crime Bill have been put in place to continue specifically restricting and controlling Black people. Black people are more likely to be stereotyped negatively, live in poorer conditions, and will often not receive the same level of care and medical attention as a white person would. Racist ideologies and favoritism of white people still hold power underground, although it is perhaps no longer as blatantly visible as it once was.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the most prominent evidence of a mindset of racism appears to be the many incidents of police brutality and killings perpetrated against Black people, which has led to the creation of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Even in response to this movement, there are some who have claimed that it is illegitimate or has no basis, and have even tried to discredit it with slogans and campaigns such as “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.” There are people who simply don’t see anything wrong with such a mindset and refuse to educate themselves on the truth of the matter, which only perpetuates the continued spread of subtle racism that greatly impacts the Black people in this nation.
Even as peaceful protests have continued throughout the years, Black people have continually been met with unnecessary and excessive force while simply fighting for their right to live without the constant fear and necessary watchfulness of interacting with police.
It is quite clear that although we no longer have things such as enforced segregation, racism still drives a large portion of interactions and lifestyle. Racism is not a mindset that can be corrected in one night, and while it is important and valid to acknowledge our progress as a country, it is also equally as important to understand that our country is still broken and healing and that isn’t an easy or quick process. We must never stop fighting for the progression of society further into an era where white and Black people and all those in-between can live peacefully together and truly love one another.
With Liberty and Justice for All by Khadija Dewan, YPIE Scholar 2028
Color-blindness Is Counterproductive
By Alyssa Lee, YPIE Scholar 2026
When it comes to the big talk about racism, many opt for the “I don’t see color” or “There is only one race, the human race” ideologies.
Statements refusing to acknowledge race are counterproductive. Color-blindness is counterproductive.
One cannot solve a problem by simply pretending it does not exist. Turning a blind eye to all that goes on does not automatically right the wrongs.
Statements like these indicate that a person does not want to accept that racism is a real evil that we must unite against and make efforts to exterminate.
When one accepts the existence of racism, they also accept a tainted history: one drenched in the blood of enslaved Africans, littered with the bodies of Black men, women, and children, and plagued with unjust treatment and inequality.
The ugly truth proves too gruesome for many to come face to face with. And, in turn, they would rather relish in its absence, than address its presence.
When an individual denies racism, they deny all the implications surrounding it. They create a fairytale, utopian-like society around themselves, and allow no one to break down the walls of lies encompassing them.
We must accept the truth and learn from it, no matter how unsettling, heartbreaking, and enraging it may be. We cannot change the past, but we have all the power to change the future; we are the future.
And, it starts with acknowledging racism, against Black people and all other minority groups.
Artwork by Amber Morales, YPIE Scholar 2028
Forgotten Inventors Who Turned Our World Around
By Julia Azulay, YPIE Scholar 2027
As the nation reflects on the astonishing achievements fostered by Black individuals of our past and present, we must honor the overlooked inventors who made history with their creations. Black pioneers in the scientific, technological, and medical fields are often swept under the rug in favor of a spotlight on white creators. Here are some Black inventors to remember during Black History Month and hereafter.
In the late 19th century, the ironing board was revamped by Sarah Boone, an African American woman who was born enslaved. Upon receiving one of the first patents distributed to a Black woman in U.S. history, she made additions to the original ironing board, which was essentially a horizontal wooden block as of 1858. With Boone’s 1892 improvements, the board came to feature a narrower and curved design, which heavily inspired the modern ironing board.
2. Mary Van Brittan Brown
Prior to security systems becoming a fixture in homes, an African American nurse, Mary Van Britten Brown, devised an early security unit for her own home. Her creation of a security device was intended to put her mind at ease, since she lived in a neighborhood with high crime rates and unresponsive police. In 1966, Brown invented a system that utilized a camera that could slide into and look through four peepholes in her front door and made improvements to her invention over time. In 1969, she and her husband were awarded the patent of the home security system.
3. Garrett Morgan
With only an elementary school education, Garrett Morgan introduced several significant inventions, such as the upgraded sewing machine and the gas mask. However, one of his most influential innovations was a further developed version of the traffic light. Without Morgan’s addition of a third light, drivers across the nation would be directed by a two-light system.
4. Frederick McKinley Jones
Frederick McKinley Jones took out more than 60 patents throughout his life, including a patent granted to him in the mid-1930s for the roof-mounted cooling system used to refrigerate goods on trucks during extended transportation. He received a permit for his invention in 1940 and co-founded the U.S. Thermo Control Company, later known as Thermo King. The company was crucial during World War II, helping to preserve blood, food, and supplies during the war.
5. Lewis Latimer
The light bulb was brought into existence by Thomas Edison, but the renovation applied to create longer-lasting light bulbs with a carbon filament originated from Lewis Latimer. Latimer, the son of formerly enslaved parents, began working in a patent law firm after serving in the military, and his talent was recognizable. While working at an electric company, Latimer developed and patented a new filament for the light bulb, using carbon instead of incendiary materials to produce an increased life span.
6. Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner
By 1957, after countless financial struggles and obstacles to dodge, Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner saved enough money for her first-ever patent: a belt for sanitary napkins. It was long before the advent of disposable sanitary pads, and women still depended on cloth materials during menstruation. Kenner proposed an adjustable belt with a built-in, moisture-proof napkin pocket. Her work eventually led to the development of convenient, disposable pads, despite her gaining little recognition for her innovation.
Whether you realize it or not, Black inventors have changed and revolutionized the lives of the general population within previous centuries. However, to fully comprehend their impact on modern society, it is critical to continue shining light on their innovations without getting distracted by the whitewashing of history.
Artwork by Chelsea Deane, YPIE Scholar 2025
Looking Back 100 Years Ago
By Shemar Forbes, YPIE Scholar 2025
Black History Month is the time for us to celebrate the rich culture and heritage of African Americans, as well as recognize their many achievements and their significance to U.S. history. As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, it is only appropriate that we acknowledge a seminal period in U.S. history: the Harlem Renaissance.
Characterized as a cultural, social, and artistic explosion, the Harlem Renaissance is widely considered a golden age in African American culture, lasting roughly from the late 1910s to the early 1930s.
In the years leading up to the Renaissance, thousands of African Americans from the rural South moved to the cities of the North in order to escape its oppressive caste system and find a place where they can start afresh.
Drawn by the various working and housing opportunities available, many Black writers, poets, scholars, artists, performers, and musicians traveled to the Harlem neighborhood in New York City, where they could freely express their talents.
Among those individuals whose works gained recognition was the actor Paul Robeson, who used his stage performances to challenge Black racial stereotypes; the singer Bessie Smith, who attracted Blacks and Whites to Harlem speakeasies through her vocally extravagant music; the sculptor Augusta Savage, who played an integral role in enlisting Black artists into the Federal Art Project, a division of the Work Progress Administration (WPA); the sociologist Charles Spurgeon Johnson, who founded the National Urban League magazine, Opportunity, which helped shape the Harlem literary scene and bolstered writers like Langston Hughes; and the poet Countee Cullen, who earned prizes in a number of poetry contests while a student at New York University before pursuing his masters degree at Harvard University and publishing his first volume of poetry: Color, just to name a few.
The Renaissance not only led to great cultural and artistic developments, but it also reinforced racial pride among African Americans and gave them control over how the Black experience was represented in American culture.
While the majority of African Americans still faced racism, discrimination, and violence at that time, the Harlem Renaissance rebirthed African American culture and provided them with new opportunities, ultimately setting the foundation for later civil rights-related movements.
For all my fellow African Americans, let us continue striving for greatness, despite the setbacks and challenges that may follow, while leaving our carbon footprint in America and beyond.
5 T.V. Shows That You Need to Add to Your Watch List During Black History Month
By Raquel Negrón, YPIE Scholar 2026
While we are in Black History Month, here are some shows from different platforms that highlight Black actors and actresses to watch. Some of these shows contain the history of the Black community fighting for what is right. But there are also some light-hearted and comedic shows. So, these shows should not just be watched this month, but all year round. You never know when a show can educate us and allow us to realize we have learned many new things.
When They See Us
This show is based on the true story of The Central Park 5, which took place on April 19th, 1989. It explores the lives of five suspects who were wrongfully accused and charged with the sexual assault of a female victim. It highlights a racially biased justice system, the media that aided in the conviction of the boys, the fight to try to get these boys out of jail, and the pain the whole ordeal caused.
*Can be found on Netflix-TV-MA
2. Chewing Gum
This series follows a 24-year-old woman named Tracey Gordon, played by Michaela Coel, who was raised in a strictly religious home. She has a boyfriend who, like her family, is also very religious. They all believe in not having sexual intercourse before marriage. But, she soon starts to discover who she wants to be and learns to embrace her sexuality.
*Coming soon to Netflix-TV-MA
This is a comedic sitcom that follows a middle-class African American family through their day-to-day lives. The show includes many life lessons for the kids growing up in the show and even the adults. The two parents, played by Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson, prepare their kids to become exemplary Black adults. Some of the more recent episodes have discussed issues including politics, racism, and even divorce. This show brings many laughs to so many families, but it also reminds people of the hardships faced in life.
*Can be found on ABC-PG
4. Dear White People
This series follows a group of students of color, who have a podcast called “Dear White-People,” and attend a predominately white Ivy League school. The students running this show are faced with many things while going to college including misguided activism, politics, social injustice, and so much more. This series has three volumes that are filled with irony, comedy, and honesty, which shows the students at the school that it is not as “post-racial” as they thought.
*Can be found on Netflix-TV-MA
5. How To Get Away With Murder
Criminal defense attorney and law professor Annalise Keating becomes entrenched in a twisted murder case. Starring Viola Davis, the series takes you along with her as she teaches a class called “How To Get Away With Murder” and picks five of the brightest students to accompany her in cases outside of the class. Many mysteries come about during the five seasons of this show, which alter the lives of the characters and reveal many dark secrets.
*Can be found on ABC or Netflix-TV-14
Whether you watch these shows for entertainment or educational purposes, you cannot go wrong with any of these shows.
Mask Off by Shemar Forbes, YPIE Scholar 2025
By Yismel Castro, YPIE Scholar 2025
Malcolm X is often regarded as the most radical leader during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s due to his contrary ideals when compared to other leaders such as John Lewis or Martin Luther King Jr. He was an immense critic of the techniques of civil disobedience and passive resistance, which leaders like Lewis and MLK constantly stressed would bring real change to the nation.
Malcolm X believed in a completely different approach, which was to get away from white people whom he regarded as “the common enemy,” and for Black people to come together and dip into the pleasures of unity. With his majestic and potent voice, he urged his followers to come together, find pride in their color, and protect themselves against white aggression “by any means necessary."
The fact that he believed that Blacks should protect themselves and join a revolution, one that brings “bloodshed”, was often criticized. This is especially true when he points out in his speech, Message to the GrassRoots, “If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it’s wrong to be violent defending Black women and Black children and Black babies and Black men, then it’s wrong for America to draft us and make us violent abroad in defense of her.” He’s clearly alluding to the many Black soldiers that were drafted to fight in Korea and were taught that violence would be the force of change; it’s what settles the disputes abroad, so why not on the homefront? His argument was that Blacks should unite, revolutionize, and be their own force of change because their common enemy, ‘the white oppressor’, will always exult in their power.
He further defended his claim when he told his Black listeners, “How can you justify being nonviolent in Mississippi and Alabama, when your churches are being bombed, and your little girls are being murdered, and at the same time you’re going to [be] violent with Hitler, and Tojo, and somebody else that you don’t even know?” These words showed Malcolm X’s true colors and the real reason why, at some point, he chose to promote a revolution. Due to the constant oppression and injustice his community faced, he completely opposed responding to such atrocities with anything but rage. When little girls are being murdered and sacred temples are being destroyed, love is incredibly difficult to engender in the hearts and minds of individuals who have faced nothing but torment.
Many individuals tend to say that his views are erroneous because promoting violence is never the solution; however, it’s not fair to tell others how to manifest their pain. The deaths of human beings cause pain, the deaths of little Black girls cause pain, and the death of the many Black men and Black women that were killed at the hands of the monster called racism cause pain.
Wanting desperately to end the cycle of abuse by any means necessary doesn’t sound like such a radical idea to those who are being faced with having to deal with the consequences of the oppressor’s actions. It’s essential to understand the despondency, grief, and sadness that Blacks such as Malcolm X had to endure before regarding them as cruel, radical, and delusional for wanting to stand up against the very source of injury.
Civil disobedience is a radical tactic in its own way, as it is equivalent to throwing yourself into the hands of your abuser without ever fighting back. There’s an element of irrationality in this form of protest; however, its value is not diminished, because it is being done with the hope of ameliorating an incredibly terrible situation.
In the same way, Malcolm X’s approach is also a passionate and tactical attempt to try to improve the conditions for Black people in America; yet in retrospect, it’s clear that violence was never going to resolve this centuries-old struggle.
Both approaches are different reactions to the same ghastly circumstances: distinct manifestations of distress. It’s completely unfair to tell others how they should feel about their smarting wounds. There are several ways of taking care of the injuries, but everyone’s reaction to pain will vary throughout the process.
Artwork by Jaden Halevi, YPIE Scholar 2026
The Lasting Impact of Obama’s Presidency
By Paola Baizan, YPIE Scholar 2027
Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States and the first African American to serve in the position on November 4th, 2008, after defeating John McCain who was also running for the presidency. He was later reelected on November 6, 2012, for a second term. So, how did Obama impact the United States during his two terms as president?
An article by William L. Cooper on Vice.com explains how many African Americans and other minorities reacted after finding out Obama had won the election in 2008: with contentment and hope. Seeing an African American finally become president of the United States meant to many individuals that the country was moving forward, and many eagerly anticipated what Barack Obama would do as president.
During his presidency, the unemployment rate dropped from 10% to what it is now, roughly 5%, and the middle class seemed to no longer be the largest economic class. During the years of Obama’s administration, diversity amongst the citizens of the United States became more noticeable as well. In 2013, more than half of the babies that were born came from different backgrounds. Barack Obama also signed the Affordable Care Act. This act made health insurance affordable, thus making it more accessible to Americans. With the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, Obama improved the nutrition children received in school. Barack Obama and his administration also initiated the My Brother’s Keeper program, which helps many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) teen boys stay on the path to success.
Recently, on November 17, 2020, Obama published his new book, A Promised Land. The novel reveals his political aspirations and experiences throughout his career. One particular review reads, “A Promised Land is extraordinarily intimate and introspective—the story of one man’s bet with history, the faith of a community organizer tested on the world stage...This beautifully written and powerful book captures Barack Obama’s conviction that democracy is not a gift from on high but something founded on empathy and common understanding and built together, day by day.”
Obama has become an inspiration to many individuals around the world, especially those belonging to the Black community. He broke many barriers after being elected as the first African American president. He continues to have a long-lasting impact on the United States, and the world as a whole, with his many accomplishments as president and the work he continues to do today for our society. Obama has proven that dedication and determination can help one accomplish their goal, no matter the adversities that are faced.
“If you are walking down the right path and you are willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” -- Barack Obama
Artwork by Chelsea Deane, YPIE Scholar 2025
Book Recommendations: Black History Month Edition
By Maria Lozada, YPIE Scholar 2025, in collaboration with Hillary Diaz Castillo, YPIE Scholar 2025
As of late, many avid and casual readers alike (including ourselves) have started to regard our bookshelves with a new yet necessary mindset-- “decolonizing your bookshelf.” This phrase has been surfacing on multiple social media platforms in order to bring about a prominent realization.
Evaluating your collection of books and determining whether they reflect a White, Western, or colonizer point of view can create a sense of self-awareness regarding the content you consume. It is important to feel represented and create a connection with your reading, especially with the author responsible for it. Reading books that reflect more than one experience, identity, or topic can help you reevaluate ingrained biases, implicit or explicit, and beliefs. Additionally, such books can have a lasting, unforgettable impact on your life.
Hillary and I will be sharing amazing books by Black authors to honor Black History Month and get rid of the potentially whitewashed bookshelves we all have. During this month, particularly diverse mindsets have to be fortified in young adults and teenagers in order to expand our knowledge and awareness of others’ experiences, which we can gather through our reading.
As a young, Hispanic girl whose first language is Spanish, I was introduced very late to the masterpieces that books written in the English language can be. Since I was overwhelmed and struggling with the language, my most memorable Spanish teacher in the 7th grade had given me some powerful and extremely helpful advice. She recommended that I start reading children’s books, with simple, easy to absorb content and vocabulary, and then progressively work my way up to more mature and complex books. Therefore, if you are a person who struggles with the language, but would like to read some empowering, engaging, and simple to understand books by Black authors, here are the ones we recommend:
1. Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry
First and foremost is the endearing, heartwarming, and possibly tear-jerking book that details the eventful and amusing experience a father and his little girl go through when he tries to style her hair in a special way for a special day. The personal and empowering notion of this book is the fact that Zuri (the little girl) is aware of her hair’s little quirks and she loves it regardless of it having a mind of its own. I (certified cry-baby) was brought to tears by this beautiful book. One can never go wrong with a healthy, sweet, and gently humorous representation of a Black father-daughter relationship and their hair adventures.
2. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
If you are a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, this fantasy novel is the perfect addition to your bookshelf. Following the massive genocide of the Maji, individuals with magic powers, by the ruthless king of Orïsha, Zélie was left without a mother and only memories of a time where magic was at the center of her life. Now, she has the opportunity of returning hope to her people and ending the cruel monarchy. In this powerful story filled with action-packed moments, profound characters, and beautiful descriptions, the writer takes the time to develop themes of friendship, colorism, and prejudice. Believe me when I tell you that you will have a wonderful time being transported to the land of Orisha, where you will find yourself flying through pages to a shocking ending that will leave you wanting more.
3. Calling My Name by Liara Tamani
Growing up is a strange experience. The struggles of developing an identity, coming to terms with a changing world, and family expectations are only aggravated by the stressful environment of high school. The themes mentioned are the center of this exemplary coming-of-age story that follows the life of Taja Brown during her journey from middle school to high school. There is something beautiful about the limited length of the chapters and the writing style of the author, which captures the ephemeral nature of feelings during this crucial stage of life. This must-read for teens will absolutely provide you with one more moment of reliability.
4. Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
Boy meets girl. Boy starts dating the girl. They break up. She dies. It appears that this love story should end up here. However, after the death of Kate, Jack is sent to the beginning of their romance. Is that even normal? Jack starts thinking he will lose his mind. However, he decides to take this opportunity to save Kate. If you are a fan of romantic comedies and heartfelt stories, I truly recommend this young-adult contemporary novel. With passionate and interesting characters, this story was a fun read that gave me hope about life and really put a smile on my face. In a sense, it was a nice reminder that the stories of people of color go beyond the societal struggles they face on a daily basis.
5. Imani’s Moon by Janay Brown-Wood
Lastly is the inspiring, culturally informative Imani’s Moon by Janay Brown-Wood, a personal favorite of mine. This book revolves around the life of young and small Maasai girl Imani and her supportive mother as she experiences excessive teasing from the other children in her village for her stature and her big dreams. Her mother regales Imani with tales of mythology and folklore, which the author mentions are part of Maasai oral traditions. This then inspires Imani to go on an adventure as she endeavors to reach the moon. As a certified and professional crier, I was once again brought to tears after I finished this book. Imani illustrates the vital lesson of reaching beyond our limitations, even in the face of doubts from others and ourselves. As a thirteen-year-old with a tendency to dream big, I was touched by this book, and to this day I remember the heartwarming advice Imani’s mother reassures her with, “A challenge is only impossible until someone accomplishes it.”
Wisp by Danielle Yeboah, YPIE Scholar 2027
Monumental Figures in Black History
By Alyssa Lee, YPIE Scholar 2026; Vanessa Gentile, YPIE Scholar 2027; Salamatu Lawal, YPIE Scholar 2025; and Catarina Mendes, YPIE Scholar 2025
There are numerous female African American historical figures whose names shall not be forgotten, as they were able to represent the strength of Black excellence. Their immense courage, great dedication, and extreme persistence has allowed them to set precedents throughout the course of U.S. history.
Jo-Ann Robinson was born on April 17, 1912, in Culloden, Georgia. She was not only valedictorian of her graduating class, but she was also the first in her family to graduate college. After earning her Bachelor’s degree from Fort Valley State College in 1934, she pursued her dream of becoming a teacher.
Around 1949, in Montgomery, she became very active in the Women’s Political Council (WPC), an organization for African American professional women created by African American professional women.
It was committed to encouraging Black women to participate in civic affairs, increasing voter registration in the Black community, and providing Black women who were victims of rape or assault with support.
One day in Montgomery, Robinson was berated by a bus driver for sitting in the area designated “for whites only.” This was the moment that lit her fuse.
After becoming the president of WPC the following year, Robinson swiftly made the desegregation of public transportation her and the organization’s top priority. However, many of the WPC’s efforts were quickly dismissed by authority figures.
This prompted Robinson to begin initiating plans for a mass bus boycott by the city’s entire African American community.
The arrest of Rosa Parks gave Robinson and her associates the push they needed to take action. Copies of flyers were made and distributed all across the city, calling for a one-day boycott.
This soon transformed into a movement. Thus, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was created, electing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as its president.
Robinson continued to work as a member of the MIA’s executive board. She wrote as well as edited the weekly newsletter and volunteered in a carpool system initiated to help fellow African Americans travel to and from work.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a critical element of the Civil Rights Movement. It was the first successful example of protest in the Deep South, paving the way for many other non-violent civil rights protests. It established Dr. King as a prominent and dignified figure in history. And, showcased that women played a significant role in the launching and sustaining of the protest.
According to Robinson herself, “Women’s leadership was no less important [to] the development of the Montgomery Bus Boycott than was the male and minister-dominated leadership.”
Robinson continued to remain dedicated and active in local politics and ordeals up until her death in Los Angeles on August 29, 1992.
Jo Ann Robinson is still a figure to be revered today. She remained stoic when faced with danger, never wavered in her moves, and fought passionately for what she believed was right: equality for her people. Moreover, equality for all.
Ida B Wells
From journalist to activist and teacher, the legacy of Ida B Wells cannot be confined to one occupation.
Wells was born enslaved in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16, 1862. She and many other African Americans were decreed free six months later due to the Emancipation Proclamation.
Wells attended Shaw University until the age of 16, when she was forced to drop out due to a family tragedy. Both of her parents and one of her siblings fell ill and passed away in a yellow fever outbreak. In her efforts to take care of her other siblings, Wells lied about her age to acquire a teaching job.
In May 1884, Wells bought a first-class train ticket from Memphis to Nashville. During the train ride, the train crew ordered her to move to the car for African Americans. Wells stood her ground and refused to leave. She was forcibly removed from the train, and on her way out, she bit one of the men’s hands. She sued the railroad, winning a $500 settlement in a circuit court case; however, the decision was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court. This incident is what fueled her activism.
On top of teaching, Ida B. Wells wrote about many racial issues in the South, including the flaws of the Memphis Board of Education. One article she published in 1891 in the Memphis Free Speech, which she co-owned, ultimately cost Wells her teaching position. Her activism, however, did not stop there.
In 1892, Wells began her anti-lynching campaign. She wrote newspaper articles, condemning the lynching of her friend and the wrongful deaths of other African Americans. She spent two months traveling the South, gathering information about the abhorrent lynching incidents occurring. Her activism enraged many and put her life in danger. She was soon forced to vacate Memphis for Chicago, where she spent the rest of her days and founded the city’s first Black women’s club, first Black kindergarten, and first Black suffrage organization, leaving a long-lasting impact on the nation.
Debi Thomas is the first African American figure skater to make it to the Olympics.
In her early life, Debi already had many accomplishments. She won bronze in the 1988 Olympics when she was just 21 years old. She also graduated from Stanford University three years later with a medical degree and became an orthopedic surgeon.
Even now, Thomas’s successes and determination have been a big influence for girls of color.
Thomas began skating at five years old. Just four years later, she won her first competition. At the age of ten, she signed with coach Alex McGowan, who remained her coach during the Olympics. Debi skated throughout middle and high school and continued to do so while also studying engineering at Stanford University.
When Thomas skated at the Olympics, she crushed the stereotype that Black people could not skate. Her dazzling performances landed her a bronze medal, and she became the first Black figure skater to win a medal at the Olympics. She continued studying at Stanford and graduated in 1991.
Debbie retired from figure skating the following year in order to further her education at Northwestern University Medical School and graduated in 1997.
Thomas eventually became an orthopedic surgeon, but unfortunately could not maintain that job due to her practice going bankrupt. She now resides in a trailer in Richmond, Virginia. She had to sell her medal as well. Even with the struggles she faces now, Debi Thomas has stated she doesn’t regret anything.
Phillis Wheatly made history in 1773 when she became the first African American to publish a volume of poetry. She was roughly 20 years old at the time. This amazing achievement set a precedent during a time when many Black people were living in bondage and were not allowed to learn basic skills such as reading and writing. It also helped fuel the abolitionist movement.
Born in West Africa, Wheatly was brought to New England and sold into slavery at the age of seven. She was purchased by Susanna Wheatly to serve as a domestic captive as she was deemed too fragile and young for the toil of the Southern fields. The Wheatly family discovered her interest in writing, and rather than shutting it down as would have been done by many other slave owners, they decided to encourage her intellectual pursuits. As a result, Wheatley was taught reading and writing and was able to gain knowledge of a variety of fields, such as astronomy and religion.
In 1771, she gained international recognition for her Whitefield elegy, which was published in both New England and London. She began attempting to gain traction by running advertisements for her poems in Boston, but it soon became apparent that many white people were not willing to support an African American poet. So, she and the Wheatlys’ turned to London, where Mrs. Wheatley was able to forward one of her poems to an old family friend. Soon, preparation was underway for the publishing of Phillis Wheatly’s first book. In 1773 she was able to travel to London where she published her first book of poetry.
Wheatly continued her poetic pursuits, publishing more poems and sometimes using them as a form of political commentary. She discussed religion, slavery, and her view of America.
As she moved forward with her life, she began to find it challenging to navigate being a free woman. She had previously not had to deal with some of the economic hardships associated with being a free Black person. Eventually, she married a free Black man named John Peters. Peters was an ambitious man who appears to have tried his hand in all sorts of endeavors, from legal practice to owning a grocery shop to baking. He made an effort to do something worthwhile with his time and was regarded as quite intelligent and charismatic.
Not for lack of trying, he was unable to maintain a steady stream of income due to the economy largely favoring white people, and the couple soon found themselves in extreme poverty. One woman remarked on how such a highly celebrated woman was now tragically reduced to such a condition.
Despite these challenges, Wheatly still continued to write poems and worked on publishing them. While she still received little support from Americans, she continued to write poetry in celebration of the America that was fighting hard for freedom.
Phillis Wheatley Peters died on December 5th, 1784. It has recently been discovered that she left behind many more poems that were never published due to lack of support. Although during her time many did not offer her due respect simply because of the color of her skin, Phillis Wheatley Peters continues to be a revered poet who fought hard for what she believed in, inspired many, and made history.
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