I speak at a lot of schools across the country, and I’ve encountered a trend that drives me freakin’ nuts. I always ask students the following question:
“How many of you want to be a professional athlete or a rapper?”
At inner-city, mostly African American schools, nearly every hand shoots up. When I ask the same question in a white suburban school, maybe 10 percent of hands are raised. I speak to a lot of schools, and this happens without fail.
I tell black kids all the time, “You ain’t gonna be me.” Even if you’re any good on the court, the odds are stacked against you. But I can tell from the blank way they look back at me: They’re putting all their eggs in this totally unlikely basket. But I get why. Young black kids get from the media an unrealistic picture of African American success. Athletes and rappers, with Denzel and Oprah thrown in.
So to mark Black History Month here at The Citizen, I’m going to introduce you every day to my Philadelphia Black History Month All-Stars. Many of them didn’t make it into the history books or even the newspapers of their time. But their stories are inspiring and worth knowing.
Crystal Bird Fauset
Crystal Bird Fauset
(June 27, 1894 – March 27, 1965)
A friend of Eleanor Roosevelt’s, Fauset was the first African American woman elected to a state legislature in the country, chosen in 1938 to represent the 18th District of Philadelphia, which was over 66 percent white. She introduced legislation that addressed public health, low-income housing and women’s workplace rights. Fauset later joined Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet” to promote African American civil rights. As a member of the interracial committee for the American Friends Service Committee, she gave over 200 lectures about African American culture to mostly white audiences. “White students, both high school and college, think of the American Negro as being not quite human…and that whatever advantages and privileges he enjoys are due solely to the magnanimity of white people,” Fauset said. “They do not seem to realize that these advantages and privileges are due him as a native-born American citizen and as a normal human being—at least as normal as the attitude of the white world permits him to be.”
- Columbia University Teachers College, B.S. 1931
- Worked on the Interracial committee for the American Friends Service Committee, speaking to over 40,000 mainly white audience members
- Chairperson of the Philadelphia Negro Woman’s Democratic League
Executive secretary of Institute of Race Relations at Swarthmore College
First African American woman to take a seat in state legislature in the U.S.
“We should not want to think of America as a ‘melting pot,’ but as a great interracial-laboratory where Americans can really begin to build the thing which the rest of the world feels that they stand for today, and that is real democracy,” Fauset said in the 1940 Woman’s Centennial Congress.