Activism more than reaction for Charlottesville student
By TYLER HAMMEL
Jun. 10, 2018
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — She may not have graduated high school yet, but Zyahna Bryant already has made a name for herself.
The Charlottesville High School junior first gained national attention when she created a petition in March 2016 to remove Charlottesville's statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The petition caused a nationwide conversation on the role of Confederate symbols in contemporary society, especially after white nationalist rallies last year.
Bryant's activism hasn't gone unnoticed. In April, she received the Washington, D.C., regional Princeton Prize in Race Relations for her advocacy work at CHS. In September, she is traveling to Connecticut to accept the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center's student prize.
As part of Black History Month this year, Bryant put together the "Blackness Lecture Series," which featured speakers talking about topics related to blackness, such as childhood development and queer theory. Another recent event focused on the complexity of identity.
Among her peers, Bryant is interested in helping more students of color enroll in advanced courses. In her city, she wants to help government communicate with and better serve communities of color.
"My hope is to help facilitate conversations that may not happen otherwise," she said. "I'm looking forward to connecting the students to the resources that we have in our community and people who are already working for social justice and racial justice. . There's a lot of good work going on, we just need to do a better job as a community of coordinating. LGBT people of color are leading the way — especially after the summer we've been seeing a lot of genuine effort of people trying to be allies — and I think it's important to center voices of color."
Bryant said her activism started long before high school.
"My family is very involved in the community and I've been on the Charlottesville Youth Council for five years," she said. "Activism has come naturally to me by being a leader and I think it would be a shame if our leaders didn't speak out about racial and social justice."
However, Bryant thinks the conversation since the deadly white nationalist rally in August has turned away from white supremacy and its long history.
"We have created our own little narrative that looks and sounds better so we don't have to really get down deep to the conversations we need to have," she said. "I think specifically citing Aug. 12 over and over again only makes the platform bigger for white supremacy, but it also takes away from the fact that we have a longstanding history of white supremacy here in Charlottesville."
Bryant's activism led her to work as a student intern at the University of Virginia's Carter G. Woodson Institute, researching the roots of racism.
Deborah McDowell, director of the Woodson center, said she was impressed by Bryant's desire to learn.
"Typically, 10th-graders are not involved among the weightiest issues of our time," she said. "Zyahna is keenly interested in political and social issues and has an intellectual sophistication beyond her years."
This summer, Bryant will return to the Woodson Institute to conduct an independent research project on stop-and-frisks performed by police.
Though still a year shy of graduating from high school, Bryant is considering studying sociology, politics or pre-law.
"I want to take activism in another way by being able to incorporate what I do in academia into politics and activism, as well," she said. "It's important to me to bring back what I learn in a way that benefits community."
Information from: The Daily Progress, http://www.dailyprogress.com