Throughout elementary and middle school, I lived in a bubble. But when I got to high school, I experienced blatant racism from another student. On a school-wide email chain, a student started a debate around racism and said, “Black people should be grateful for slavery because it brought them to America. They should be happy about it.”
Before this happened, I knew racism existed, but I’d never personally experienced it. When it happened to me, it was shocking.
I needed a teacher to step in and protect me. But when I asked for help, I felt like more could be done. It was traumatizing. I cried a lot. I felt broken and alone.
I realized that I could let this break me, or I could be the change that I wanted to see. I started trying to create a dialogue about racism in my school. I staged a one-day walkout with other students of color. We organized a day when black students were silent to show what happens when our voices aren’t present in the room. It was jarring for white students. It showed them our pain. And it helped them understand that black students need their support.
Today, racial justice is built into my high school’s curriculum. Ten years after I graduated, I went back to speak at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Day assembly. Though there’s still progress to be made, the school has come a long way.
My experience of racism inspired me to come out of my shell.
It was a relief to channel my pain into making the world better, instead of just sitting in despair.
My experience in high school planted a seed in me. I’ve made my career fighting for equality for everyone. I’m now on the global diversity team at Google. Our mission is to make the tech industry more inclusive, and we work with school systems to ensure everyone has equal access to careers in technology. We also work to ensure all Googlers feel valued and included.
I fight for the marginalized day in and day out. I feel very blessed to do it. Ultimately, I’m fighting for a world where no one ever has to face racism again.
Annie Jean-Baptiste is a Global Diversity Business Partner at Google. She is passionate about making the web work for underserved communities and ensuring Google is a place where everyone feels valued for their differences. Annie graduated with honors from the University of Pennsylvania (go Quakers!) with degrees in international relations and political science. She is an avid Boston sports fan and loves to bring her dog Hercules to work.
Image Credit: Norman Jean Roy