Celebrating the Second Annual Black Teen Summit

After meeting online last year due to the pandemic, students and teachers were able to come together for the first in-person and second annual Black Teen Summit to celebrate black excellence with various speakers and activities.

Numerous Black teachers were present at the event to show their support, one being head football coach Nick Torresso. “I also went to a high school that was a majority White school and there were not any opportunities like this, especially not any centered around Black students and the advancement of Black students,” Torresso said. “Most of the feedback I’ve gotten in my short time at West is that the kids, especially our Black students, just don’t feel like they have a space to call their own. This provides a space to be with each other inside the walls of the school led by adults they see around school.”

After opening words from Niles West principal Dr. Karen Ritter, the event kicked off with a presentation by speaker Dr. Michael Allen — he spoke about his childhood and what it was like having to adopt his own brother in order to provide him a better environment. Because of this, his brother was able to get the education he needed, allowing him to eventually begin to pursue his doctorate degree.

“I believe that the way to overcome systemic racism is through equity,” Allen said. “Make it tangible and practical, being able to find ways to remove barriers that people put up.”

His presentation contained images of childhood photos of him and his brother, as well as a few key thoughts he wanted students to keep in mind. To finish off his presentation, Allen asked the audience to follow him in a breathing exercise to clear their mind before students were split off into groups for the remainder of the day’s activities.

One of the speakers was the Niles West Head Orchestra Director Natalie Frakes accompanied by the group KNVS House and Allen Washington, also known as Allen the Official. Frakes played her electric violin to students while Allen performed an original song, singing about inequality and the unfair treatment of Black people as members of KNVS House danced beside him.

“One thing that we want to continue to push toward youth is not just to be intellectual thinkers, but to be solution-based thinkers, to figure out the solutions that have always highlighted the problem,” Washington said. He spoke to students about the problems of systemic racism and how problems stem when people isolate themselves from one another.

In between sessions, students were able to mingle with each other and snack on chips and water, allowing them to recollect and share their thoughts.

“It feels good to know that we actually have people that care and that there are actually people in action trying to stop what’s happening in our communities,” Niles North senior Elisabeth Eaddy said. “I just hope everybody takes this into consideration and comes together to try to work through the tragedies of what White people are doing to us.”

“I think this has been one of our best events of community, because we don’t have things like this. We didn’t have a Black History Month assembly, we didn’t have anything like that this year — this is our first time coming together, Niles West and Niles North, because we’re the same,” Niles North junior Dalilah Smith said.

Another activity was led by speaker Nicholas Henton. He asked students to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths, taking the time to remove the coat he was wearing to reveal a white button-up covered in different kinds of written insecurities. His message was powerful and received high praise from the students.

“You are enough. Despite what they say, you are enough,” Henton said. “Despite the hell you are going through, you are enough. Despite the fact that you can’t find out what’s going to happen tomorrow, you are enough. Despite the fact that you show up here every day trying to please somebody, you are enough. Despite what’s going on in your life, you are enough.”

Speaker Jordan Gleaves was able to bring out the creativity of the students through a couple of acting exercises. Gleaves first asked students to simply walk around the room quietly, to take some time for themselves. As they continued to walk, however, he requested that they begin to move slower and slower. When it seemed the participants could not move any slower, he shared his own experience in a movement class where his professor challenged him to go from laying down to standing up in an hour’s time.

“I went to a predominantly White [high] school and we didn’t really have any kind of celebration of me, of my Blackness, and that’s something I did often feel in the arts — I did feel left out,” Gleaves said. “This is really important. Even now, this is making me feel like I’m home.”

A hair porosity test was introduced to the groups with speaker Kesia King, a hairstylist for a mobile barbershop. To allow the Black students to test the porosity of their hair, King passed out small cups of water before asking them to pull a strand of their hair out and put it in the cup. Floating hair meant low porosity, while sinking hair meant high porosity.

“I think this is amazing because there are very unique needs that different groups have,” King said. “Being able to talk about them and share our struggles, sharing possible solutions, learning how to take care of our hair — I think it’s great that you all are providing a program like this. I think [Black students] will feel empowered and cared for about issues that are unique to them.”

Lunch was provided by Luella’s Southern Kitchen for everyone after each speaker met with each of the groups. The DJ continued to play music, and students got together after eating to dance and interact with each other. Allen the Original and KNVS House performed once more for the students, and numerous organizers and staff joined the students in their dances.

This event could not have been possible without executive secretary Carl Alexander, assistant principal of operations Steve Parnther, student activities director Katie Odell, director of community relations and strategic partnerships April Stallworth, director of fine and applied arts Patti-Anne Ford and director of physical welfare Omar Alebiosu.