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Perspective | Finding my way as a student trailblazer

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When students at Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies returned to in-person instruction, they faced a tense situation in Elizabeth City. Students from nine different counties were gathering in a new school building — many interacting with each other for the first time — soon after the police killing of Andrew Brown, an unarmed Black man. In response to racist incidents, the school allowed students to lead the way, building a school culture around respect and inclusivity. This series includes five student perspectives and two perspectives from the guidance counselors in their own words.  

My mother wanted me to attend Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies (NEAAAT). She saw it as a great opportunity.

I saw a lot of white faces in a place I didn’t think I belonged. I was too different.

My legacy, my impact — this is gonna be a bittersweet journey. My dream is to be like Martin but effective like Malcolm, patient like Nelson, and firm like Angela.

My experiences are steps up the mountains. My shortcomings are my victories.

This school has been my eye-opener since day one. I have been bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I was a naive student to the world. That much was made clear to me last year. My mom has always told me this world does not care about you and they never will. I thought she was lying until last year.

COVID-19 spread over the world like a rushing wind when I was in ninth grade. I had no classes in person for two years. No connections. Then we came back in person and, though things felt warm, the vibe was uneasy.

Minor problems occurred, and we brushed it aside, blamed it on ignorance. New building, new beginnings, new attitudes, right? Wrong. The same thing that I thought I was done worrying about in my generation is coming back full circle.

The killing of Andrew Brown was a tornado that hit Elizabeth City. School days were a way to relieve stress and get away from my home environment, but when you are here your back is against the wall if you’re Black. Thoughts I’ve had and memories that come back burn my heart with anger and fill my me with disappointment and sadness.

From a school family to a building full of strangers, I waited for my time to come to finally be the trailblazer everyone thinks I am.

Then the group came about one day when a student wanted to see a change. This is more than a group. It’s a revelation, a wake-up call to break generational curses that have been baked in for ages.

With each problem, we get wiser and stronger — and the audiences get smaller. 

Our Andrew Brown is missing, but the fight will continue. The fight of everyone feeling equal. The fight of no one being alone when they come here to NEAAAT. The feeling of having to bite your tongue because you’re scared of what people may think.

What do we do? Do we fight (like Malcolm)? Do we talk (like Martin)? Do we wait (like Nelson)? What would you do (Angela)? 

When we talk, I feel like it hits a brick wall.

Break the wall, they said. Leave it alone, they said. It’s never gonna work, they said. 

Martin never stood down; Malcolm never eased up; Nelson never gave in; Angela never shut up. And I won’t. Will I? 

I can’t, because now I know I belong here. I belong because I’m different.

I am the trailblazer, and what is my legacy? Let’s start with meetings and with fellowship. After that? My legacy is undetermined, and my fight is undefeated.

Janiya Wallace

Janiya Wallace is a rising senior at Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies.