Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Navigating Education and Identity

BOND: So you find yourself at the top of this pyramid where the closer you get to the top, the whiter the pyramid gets, what was the effect of your placement here at the top with your white classmates or schoolmates, your black classmates or schoolmates? What was—Did their attitude toward you change, or was it marked in any way?

HALL: It was extremely complicated because I was that black kid who had friends who were from Douglas, but then had a lot of white friends. I was like that kid who could morph and go between these worlds. And it was extremely complicated. My friendships with the black kids could be strained sometimes, like sometimes they would call me "Oreo," you know, white on the inside, black on the outside—you speak this way, your language is a little heightened, you speak grammatically correct, you know. It's hurtful, but you understand, you understand why. It's a sense of, "You're getting something that I'm not getting so I'm gonna make fun of you."

BOND: Yes, "I'm gonna blame you for what I don't have."

HALL: I'm gonna blame you for what I don't have, exactly. But then with the white kids, like when I graduated from high school and I got all these scholarships and there was this one guy that was like, "Oh you got those scholarships because you're black." Well that's the first time I ever got anything because I'm black, well thank you Jesus [laugh] bring it on, bring me more. But once again, I had some tension with my white classmates. There was this one incident in particular, I will never forget it, but there was this white guy named TJ who supposedly called us a nigger. We were, I think, in tenth grade at that time. We were about to go to math class and everybody came up to me and was like, "Katori, Katori, you gotta go beat TJ up, or you gotta go talk to him—beat him up with your words, or something." And I was - like, this anger was like, how dare he, like what year is this? Really, what year is this? I remember going up to TJ and I was like, "Why did you call us niggers?" And he says, "Well my father said that y'all are from Niger, and so I can call y'all niggers." And something broke inside of me that day because when he said that, I didn't have enough history in my mind to refute him. I didn't have enough self-knowledge to know that most, if you are a descendant of a slave—that you're probably from Ghana or Nigeria—I didn't know that yet. And at that moment, I was - like, I have to learn my history beyond 1968. I have to read about slavery. I have to deconstruct this myth that has been created about being an African American in this country—and the ignorance too. That was a very powerful moment. It kind of crystalized my sense of identity and I began to be very proud of being an African American once I learned more of my history.