As an academic, I am constantly traveling to present at conferences, network and create change in communities.
The one question I am always asked is, “Where are you from?” My response is Salt Lake City, Utah. It is my home, and not the answer people expect to hear. I get one of two replies: First, are you Mormon? Second, I didn’t think people of color lived there.
Rap artist, Tupac Shakur, first coined “The Rose that Grew from Concrete.” Shakur states, “Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Provin nature’s laws wrong. It learned to walk without having feet. Funny it seems but by keeping its dreams. It learned to breathe FRESH air.”
Roses that grew from concrete is a powerful metaphor to explain the conditions that people of color endure in metropolitan communities where there are high poverty rates, crime, low levels of educational attainment, and overall limited access to resources for basic survival. Despite these conditions, these individuals still grow into roses. What does it mean to grow a rose in white concrete?
I see white concrete as a metaphor for White supremacy which is the core of racism. Concrete is hard to break as is White supremacy. For people of color who are born and/or raised in predominately White states, this is our concrete. More importantly, bell hooks reminds us that it is not White people who are the problem, but rather the system of White supremacy, and calls on White folks to actively disengage from the oppressive system.
I recently went back home to visit and to my surprise came across the cultivation of rosebuds.
Jennifer W. Sanchez, director of NeighborWorks Salt Lake, a nonprofit focused on community revitalization in the city’s historically underserved neighborhoods and the Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, Inc. chapter of Utah organized the first girls of color conference in the state.
Growing ROSES (Representing Our Self-worth through Education, culture and Service) Conference is an event to strengthen teenage girls of color to take responsibility for their futures by building their self-worth through education, culture and service. I served as a Femtor defined as “an experienced and trusted adviser” and was a part of history. It was powerful to reconnect with women of color professionals that knew me as a little girl and shaped who I am today.
A Latina eighth grader came up to me and asked, “how do you not give up, when people tell you, you will amount to nothing?” I took a deep breath and told her because I need you. This interaction also reminded me of why I do the work that I do.
Girls of color throughout the nation are experiencing systemic barriers and these are heightened in predominately White states. Girls of color are being suspended from school at disproportionate rates which leads to them being pushed out of schools and more likely to enter the criminal justice system. Black and Latina teen girls are twice as likely to become pregnant than their White counterparts. Overall, girls of color will experience higher levels of unemployment, if employed are in low-skilled jobs, earn less, which leads to long term non-economic stability.
Currently throughout the United States we are seeing Latinx/a/os dispersion increasingly growing in predominately White states. In 2016 Pew Research Center reported that the “South still leads nation in [Latinx/a/o] growth overall, but three counties in North Dakota top list of fastest-growing.”
I am sure, North Dakota is the last place people may think Latinx/a/o are residing. Yet we are there.
I am a rose that grew from white concrete. I am a Chicana/Puerto Rican native Utahan. Utah is 86% White, 12 % Latino, 2% Asian, 1% Black and Native American. Our prisons are 65% people of color versus 35% White, and our flagship university has a student body of 80% White students versus 10% students of color. Girls of color are waiting for us to create change in these spaces.
Next time you find yourself in a predominately White state: How will you grow a rose in white concrete?
Dr. Nichole Margarita Garcia is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. You can follow her on Twitter @DrNicholeGarcia