Being Black at Grace

Women of Amazing Grace perform “Stand Upby Cynthia Erivo. Media provided by Ms. Elizabeth Segre-Lawrence.

Want to listen along? Press play to hear Rose A. ’22 recite her Black History Month speech – Recorded by Olivia Berger ’22

Editor’s Note: Rose Azzu ‘22 gave an moving speech at Grace’s Black History Month Chapel Feb. 16.  After a brief introduction, thanking school leaders and civil rights activists, Rose shared her story: 

Good morning everyone. A special good morning to the beautiful Black people here today. Unfortunately, as a biracial queen, my Black History Month ended on the 14th because that day marks the middle of the month. 

My four years full of memories at Grace Church School began with a rocky start, including everyday jeggings and a string of meetings with my dean which touched on a variety of racially insensitive incidents. Freshman year brought forth numerous meetings about why not to say the n-word, and we’ve continued this cycle. Last year, canceled Zoom classes followed the capital coup and we talked about cops repeatedly murdering Black people. As these incidents prevailed, and Black people continued to fight for themselves, I struggled with my mental health and adapting to a private, white institution (PWI), much like my peers have shared. If I wasn’t at a predominantly white institution, I wouldn’t have to worry if the community would understand my discomfort and hurt.

At times like these, I would turn to Amazing Grace, an affinity group (that stands for Grounded in Race, Ancestry, Culture, Ethnicity) housing Black individuals and/or members of the African diaspora, and many other supportive friends along this journey. After experiencing these struggles while simultaneously trying to succeed in school, I wanted my voice to be heard. It has been important for me to grow into a person that can now write prose to speak in front of the high school, perform a step piece, sing a song in chapel; all of which my freshman self would never have done. I want my voice heard so that change can take place and so I can leave somewhat of a legacy behind. I want other Black girls entering this PWI ‘cycle’ to be protected. I want them to take up space because their voices should be prioritized. 

Now, I look back at my freshman year in a different position. I am a Peer Leader and a Senior Leader of Amazing Grace. I’m hopeful that the next three years for Black students will be even more joyful and that, when I graduate, I’ll walk away knowing that Black girls have more spaces where they can take care of themselves, and each other, while occupying an inherently stressful environment. I hope they are inspired to perform and speak in future Black History Month chapels. I wish for them to eventually run for Student Body Leader and lead Amazing Grace. My experience at Grace Church School has been full of transitioning and healing, but I cannot discount the bonding, love, and joy that I have also experienced. 

Although GCS wasn’t love at first sight, I’ll forever have memories and experiences that make me grateful for my time here. I want to share a few, but not all, of the many good memories and influential people that have shaped my three and a half years. 

This year, I have had an amazing, full-circle experience as a Peer Leader, returning to Fishkill once more with the best Peer Leadership family I could ask for: #WeloveKallanandMel. I’ve loved singing “Brown Skin Girl” at cast parties with my MultiGracial, ambitious, young woman (who wears pants), our Student Body Leader, and High Commissioner of Women in STEM: Lola J. ‘22. I’ve loved begging my advisor to spoil us with snacks and, even more so, I love seeing her cc’ed- on emails about my late assignments; my favorite white mom: Ms. Anna Grafton. I’ve loved watching my brown sister, Naaz V. ‘22, go D1 & Ivy League. Kaia C. ‘22 has made my tennis varsity experience full of so many laughs on the cheese bus. I’ve helped co-lead four club/affinity spaces with the most powerful #girlboss, Madison K. ‘22. I’ve bickered with Perrin H. ‘22 about whether or not I’m actually funny and the answer is Yes, I am funny. Thank you. I’ve watched Alexa B. ‘22 run her butt off on Girls Varsity Soccer to help secure that banner (purr). This year, I have officially (almost) completed a 25-page paper about Beyoncé’s Lemonade film and its influence on Black women with the amazing help of Mx. Iguh. I’ve made many trips to the College Office to have great talks with Ms. Albanese and cries with Ms. Olivares about the application process. So speaking of, everyone repeat after me: I hope Rose Azzu gets into College! Purrr! This list of people who have brightened my years here could go on and on. It’s experiences like these that have taught me that love is what will prevail through the hardships, and that you have to surround yourself with those who will uplift you. 

Thank you to Ms. Wood, Ms. Carpenter, and Mx. Iguh for representing amazing Black women and for showing me that it’s okay to be angry and powerful. I am proud of what Madison K. ‘22, Mariema T. ‘22, Nylah M.’22, and I have done this year and for getting so many Black people to join Amazing Grace that we’ve now outgrown our original meeting space in the Writing Center. I want to thank them for helping me put this chapel together and for our sisterhood. 

Thank you, everyone, for listening. If, after today’s chapel, you’re feeling extra thankful for the Black community, and you’d like to send reparations, there will be an email sent out with everyone’s Venmo. Please be sure to tell at least five different people “Happy Black History Month” today.