It’s Time to Talk Essay Contest Winners

Fresh Water Cleveland hosted an essay contest for our 2016 It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race. The prompt appeared simple, but has many interpretations:

Why is an open and honest discussion about race important to you and your community?

We chose two winners: Tim Zaun and Adaora Nzelibe Schmiedl. Read their captivating and unique perspectives on this topic by clicking their names, or by looking below. And join us for It’s Time to Talk on February 22,2016. Registration closes Wednesday, February 17, 2016.


Submitted by Tim Zaun:

In his August 28, 1963, “ I Have a Dream” speech, delivered at the March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundation of our nation until the bright days of justice emerge.”

King’s prescient words resonate today, in Northeast Ohio and around the country, as racial tensions persist.

Open and honest dialogue about race promotes transparency among individuals, business, schools, religious institutions, law enforcement, and government, all of which comprise a community. Forthright conversations expose misperceptions, prejudice, as well as commonality. Trust, new ideas, and an understanding of people’s needs are among the benefits of clear communication.

Stephen Covey, famed author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” said, in Habit 4, Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood. To advance the fight against racism, people of every nationality need to engage in empathic listening.  For it’s only when we understand another’s plight can we begin to help them and expect their grace in return.

I’m proud to live in a region committed to addressing the complex dynamics of racial relations. The pledge represents respect for every citizen; and empowers me to be a part of the change. Discovering viable solutions to racial discord affords me the opportunity to live in a thriving community.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Words may show a man’s wit, but actions his meaning.” The YWCA’s “It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race exemplify Northeast Ohio’s ability to advance, not only dialogue, but action plans to address racism, prejudice and discrimination. Those engaged in the process lead the way in helping Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of  “brighter days of justice,” become a long overdue reality.

Submitted by Adaora Nzelibe Schmiedl

I belong to a community of light skinned girls who carry the baggage of centuries of mixed race parentage, forced and consensual.

I was born to a Nigerian father and a Polish, Scottish, Pennsylvania Dutch mother with a phizo-affective disorder in these United States. My parents were not enraged when the minister would not read marriage banns. In the Church of England “banns are an announcement in church of your intention to marry … read out every week in churches across the land for millions of couples, over many centuries.[1]”  He asked them and their guests, to come in the back door for the service. Their wedding picture was posed by the back door.

Speaking about back doors, I hovered just outside of conversational norms with two cultures, a mother who saw visions, always aware that at least one parent, no matter where we lived, was “foreign.” But talking about the color of my skin was a bigger conversation stopper.

I asked teachers at the Nannie Helen Burroughs Elementary School in Washington DC why there were so many descriptions for Caucasian skin – olive, almond, milky white – I actually made a list. With hours spent listening to peers dissect tonality of brown skin (I was “light skinned but not light enough to pass”), I was puzzled. In the books we read, people of African descent were just black. None of my teachers had an answer – even though I pointed out that each teacher was several shades lighter than me, with different underlying rich tints. Their skin could hardly be described in one word.

Learning to balance when I was “just black” as opposed to “light skinned black,” I took down pictures in my dorm room and apartment to avoid awkward “what exactly are you” questions. Better to be “just black” – finding dates, making friends, fitting in was easier. I could also more easily represent the whole race in classroom conversations and work place conundrums.

Now I have pictures in my office. I refuse to represent every black experience but own my experience, often echoed back to me by other women. My children have very light skin and blue eyes. When I enter a public playground, I do a loud third person Mama Call: “Mama will be right her if you need her.” At soccer practice last October in Cleveland Heights, a man told me, after I finished comforting my wailing 10 year old, “that I might want to look for his mother.”  I’m not the only one who has a Mama Call.

I talk to my children about identity. They are proud of their heritage – which includes their African descent. They are already pushed aside in conversations because they are “too light to be black.”

As I become a light skinned elder, I say it’s time for the continuum of conversations to acknowledge actual skin color and heritage feed the American experience. If we make our children choose to be one thing, we all lose.


This entry was posted in Inclusion, Racial Equity, YWCA Greater Cleveland and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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