Young people in Winston-Salem leading the conversation on race relations

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Young people in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County are leading the conversation that has been center to race relations in the community for 18 years.

“I am a proud representation of what my community can do and will do through determination and perseverance,” said Porsche Smith.

Smith is a senior at Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy. She’s also the chair of the Winston-Salem Youth Advisory Council. That’s a group of students of all races bringing their voices to various social issues.

“For so long, I just kind of doubted myself and doubted my voice as a biracial female,” she said. “I was just always told, I would either act whites and a community of predominantly African Americans or Black in a community of Caucasians.”

James Taylor III is the vice chair of the YAC and a senior at Early College of Forsyth.

“As a Youth Advisory Council, we just want to try to make Winston-Salem’s teens just better any way we can,” he said.

The council has been doing that work since 2002.

“It started because we actually had conversation with two Mount Tabor High School students back at that time, Rob Stevens and Walter Martin,” said Wanda Allen-Abraha. “They’ve both gone on, of course to do wonderful things, but they wanted to talk about race. Rob was white and Walter was African-American.”

Every year since, the race relations forum has brought students together from every high school in Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools. As the director of the city’s Human Relations department, Wanda Allen-Abraha works with the schools to identify students to participate.

“As we all know, it sounds cliché, but it’s true, but they are the future, they are our emerging leaders,” Allen-Abraha said. “So, it is important to have them in that mindset now while still in high school to be thinking about social justice and racial inequality as early as possible.”

Every year, Allen-Abraha says people walk away changed. This year it was virtual.

“We have heard that consistently over the years that they learned something or they heard something that they did not know, as a result of listening to the open dialogue amongst the student panelists,” she said.

In fact, Porsche and James say teachers have reached out to them to keep the conversation going on a campus level.

“We spoke privately about how interesting it was, and how moving it was,” Porsche said. “And there was a lot of questions on there and like, what can they do as teachers, especially during a pandemic, and I’m not just speaking about the COVID-19 pandemic, but the racism that is affecting everyone across the world. So, there is a quest to understand more, not only among teenagers but also among administration and staff.”

“We talked about how race is a hard topic to talk about in class,” James added. “But she’s tried to suggest ways to possibly bring it in softly so that it can be an open conversation. So, I just believe that this race relations forum was a really good way to spark conversations with our teachers and our peers.”

That’s why they do the work they do. These young people believe a change is going to come.

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