Victoria Njoroge, the 16-year old daughter of Leadership Worcester alum (class of 2020), Milka Njoroge, was wrapping up her junior year of high school with a final American history project when she noticed something missing: Where were the stories from Black communities during the hundred years after Emancipation but before the Civil Rights Movement?
Victoria decided to learn as much as she could about the Black history and narratives omitted from her textbooks, and she shared these important stories with her peers. But she didn't stop there. Victoria wrote a letter to the editor, which appeared in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette last month, about the importance of teaching diverse perspectives in schools.
Inspired by her activism, GWCF caught up with Victoria to learn more about her decision to take her message out of the classroom and to the public, and about what she hopes comes next.
GWCF: Tell us the story behind your letter and what inspired you to submit it to the editor?
Victoria: I was in my AP US History course, and one of the three most important things we learned over the year was about causation of historical events, and this got me thinking. When it comes to curriculum on Black American history, we get slavery and then kind of disappear for a while before coming up again in the 60s with the Civil Rights movement. So, I thought, what were the causes of the Civil Rights movement? What happened in Black communities during the century after Emancipation? And why weren’t we talking about that?
I started researching and learned about red-lining and about Black Wall Street. Coincidentally, this year was the 100thanniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. It surprised me that these and other aspects of Black history weren’t things I was hearing about in my classroom. Even the Chicago race riots of 1917 – this was briefly touched upon in my textbook, but I really had to look in my textbook. It was frustrating. So I gave a presentation on Black Wall Street and about other upper middle-class Black communities that were devasted, not as violently, but severely, by certain environmental factors. The building of Central Park for example –I learned that a Black community was evicted so they could build it. And the economic impacts of red-lining have affected the housing and overall wealth of Black communities for decades. I found this all very surprising, and like I probably should have been learning it in school.
When I finished my class presentation, I was on top of the world, and that’s how I decided to write my article.
GWCF: It sounds like your presentation was well-received! Were other students as surprised as you to learn about the important histories that were being left out?
Victoria: My classmates definitely learned something new and my history teacher loved it, which was nice.
GWCF: How would you like to see our education system change to better educate students on our country’s history?
Victoria: There’s obviously a certain amount that teachers can cover in a required history curriculum, but I don’t think information like this should be put in a position where it can easily be treated as an elective or optional. While I do think that CRT classes and the 1619 Project are a step in the right direction, I’d like to see overarching American history curricula incorporate minority histories into the overall story. After all, it’s everyone’s American history. Sure, it’s a lot to put into each year but it is important. It shouldn’t be brushed aside.
When writing my article, I was thinking about dismantling common narratives that aren’t necessarily true but are perpetuated anyway. Omitting narratives, leaving out important information –leaving out the truth– allows for lies, misconceptions and negative stereotypes to spread. I guess this is what ultimately motivated me to speak up about these issues. By not talking about them, I’m letting what isn’t true to be perpetuated.
GWCF: Has speaking up been easier or harder than you expected?
Victoria: I’ve been a theater kid for a long time, so I guess I’m used to speaking my mind or at least being myself. Once you find an issue that is really important to you, the way this is to me, you see it as the only option.
GWCF: Do you think your activism will continue to take shape through writing?
Victoria: I hope so!
This summer, Victoria looks forward to visiting colleges. She plans to study musical theater in the future. Whether it’s on the stage or in the press, we hope she continues using her voice to advance important conversations.