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Being president: Donald Trump and me on politics, truth and justice
Reflections from a young Black woman
Published Friday, November 20, 2020 8:03 am
by Ashleigh Fields

Ashleigh Fields, a 2019 East Mecklenburg High School graduate, is a sophomore journalism major at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

I had hoped that Donald Trump’s term would be written in pencil not pen.

Easily erasable. A small moment in history that would have no effect or plague over this country. Since the beginning of his first campaign, he came across as childish and proudly misinformed. It was clear to me that his beliefs were rooted in the misfortune of white privilege.

He’s never had to ride the bus. He’s never had to work a minimum wage job where you’re treated well below average. He didn’t go to a Title 1 school with a Republican principal where a majority of the teachers are white and most of the students are minorities.

The concept of having less and wanting more has never crossed his mind. So, I don’t really blame him for acting in the manner that he does. When he won the 2016 election, I was sitting in a classroom at East Mecklenburg High School, a place I did not know would challenge me in the way it did. The very place that showed me why my mother taught me that because I am Black, I have to be twice as good. I had to be able to communicate the needs of students who looked like me to people who couldn’t visualize living a life outside of their own. And, at first, it made me angry.

In 2016, I became president – of the Class of 2019. It was my job to plan events and activities for my peers. I adamantly pushed for free events because I knew many students didn’t have the extra money to pay. Yet when this was proposed in a team meeting, the other students and the advisor claimed it wasn’t realistic. I wouldn’t let it go.

As president, I decided that if we couldn’t have an event where the circumstances allowed every student to attend, we wouldn’t have any at all. This standoff brought me the title of a rebel. But, in my own eyes, I had just become a revolutionary with a cause.

The next year, I joined student congress, which proposes events for the entire school through a different advisor. I just knew it was my chance for change. However, I was sadly disappointed. I soon came to realize that this advisor seemed to hold the same perspective as the previous one, but with even more control behind the scenes over student activities and elections. And there was no clear system of checks and balances.

There were some questions about the posted results of campus elections, but there was no one to petition to. There were no bi-partisan or impartial observers and no established process by which to question or contest.

Nationally, political campaigns have an army of election observers and attorneys dispatched across the country to make sure that all votes are counted and that the democratic process plays out.  Not so in the halls of many of the country’s K-12 schools where future leaders are trained.  With no supervisor to petition to on my campus, my observation is that some minority students simply lose forfeiting positions that could have bolstered their college applications with admirable positions in student government.

It was then, on this small level, that I realized the importance of voting and how the spread of information is the only way to help combat voter suppression. So, I spent my last year at East Mecklenburg working on the school newspaper writing about stories I hoped would broaden perspectives and influence the minds of privileged students and staff. Yet, when I spoke to my advisor about writing articles on gentrification of the Silver Oaks neighborhood near the campus, the school’s outrageous suspension rates and policies, or the implicit racial bias of some of our administrators I was discouraged.

I left that school feeling hopeless as many students do. As if they are powerless and cannot create change no matter how hard they try. But one year at Howard University completely remodeled my mindset. Being surrounded by other black students who experienced the same thing let me know I wasn’t crazy. Having professors who created lesson plans centered around preparing me to be a successful seeker of justice gave me enough momentum to come home as a first-time voter who feels as though I am making a difference. 

I am also uplifted by the millions around the country who showed up to make a statement. Alone we may be silenced but collectively we are dominant. Therein lies the lesson.

To my fellow young leaders of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds, I say let’s stand firm and united. If we as individuals continue to promote truth, equity and activism, change will come. 

I know the journey doesn’t end after we vote, but it does allow us a chance at another more inclusive reality. Knowing that I positively contributed to what the next four years in America will look like is justice enough for me.

Ashleigh Fields is a sophomore journalism major at Howard University in Washington, D.C.


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