Fairfield High School junior Anie Udosen will never forget the day back in middle school when she literally ran into a brick wall of racism.
“I was the only Black person on the cross-country team,” Anie recalled, talking with D&M recently via Zoom. At the end of a race, she rounded a corner, triumphant in her speed… but then suddenly, all she could see was a campus wall spraypainted with racist grafiti, including the N-word. When she spoke up about it, the adults were sympathetic, but no one seemed to be in a hurry to remove the grafiti, or to impose consequences on those who might have been responsible. Months went by before anything was done. “You just get exhausted, growing up in an environment where you have to be your biggest advocate,” Anie said. “But at the same time, that gives you a sense of resiliency.”
Fast forward to last summer, when the nation erupted in racial justice demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd and other incidents of police brutality. The protest movement in Cincinnati galvanized Anie, her family and friends in the northwest suburb of Fairfield, where spaces tend to be white, and racism usually gets swept under the rug. “We wanted to see how we could bring that (national) conversation back to our community,” Anie said.
So she and her peers founded Fairfield for Change (FFC), a committee to spark dialogue and action around racial equity and inclusion within the local school district. With a grant from the Fairfield Community Foundation, and support from some key administrators (superintendent Billy Smith, FHS principal William Rice) and two awesome high school counselors (thank you, Tracy Ashford and DeAnna Owens), the group has sponsored workshops and panel discussions where students from diverse backgrounds—Anie herself is first-generation Nigerian-American—have a voice. Along with a new podcast and other projects, they’re pushing Fairfield schools to retire the high school mascot (“the Indians”), and to show greater respect for the Indigenous peoples who once thrived in the area. While there’s definitely been some pushback from certain school officials and community members, as well as awkwardness around some of her white classmates, for those ready to face the racism in their own backyards, Anie said, “it has been healing.”
And it has been noticed. This spring, the committee behind the Princeton Prize in Race Relations selected Anie Udosen to receive a Certificate of Accomplishment from Princeton University, recognizing her effort to advance racial equity and foster positive race relations through FFC. She’ll be honored alongside others at a virtual ceremony in June.
“Each year, the committee members are struck by the commitment of our country’s future leaders to this important endeavor,” said Robert Martinez, At-Large Committee Chairman. “It is clear to us that one person really can make a difference. We encourage her to keep up her work during her senior year.”
We at Democracy & Me congratulate Anie and her Fairfield peers, and look forward to sharing more of their work.