Learn Your History and Impact the World

Noah Anderson defines his own excellence as his “Blackness.”

“Being from a lineage or a people or creed that went through so much and is still coming back up is amazing,” says Noah.

Until earlier this year, however, Noah says he defined his Blackness through persistent negative stories and images of Black people, and that held him back. Without understanding his history and hearing about the many great Black leaders in history and currently, he thought he came from a defeated population of people who have no heritage of greatness. At one point, Noah was not thriving academically and wasn’t on track to graduate, despite showing up for classes every day, and had no vision for his future.

“What goes through some African American minds is that we are not successful, we have done nothing in this world, it’s what the media shows us—poor people that are not successful at all.”

And then that viewpoint was transformed when Noah, a junior at West High School, took an African-American History class.

“If you don’t learn about your history, like the white kids who learn all about their greatness in classes like western civilization, it’s a form of oppressing people. We’re made to learn about all of those things that white people achieved, so actually getting to learn about your own history, like after slavery, how we’ve done and all of the music that we made, even in Latin America and all around the world—and the influence the Civil Rights Movement had on Latinos and gay rights, even over in France— we’re part of something way better, and knowing this makes you proud to be who you are.”

Noah entered Susan Gevelber’s class determined he’d never learn his history from a white teacher. But that changed quickly. His extreme appreciation for what he was learning created an environment Ms. Gevelber benefited from, too.

“I loved having Noah in class because he was so curious and eager to connect history to his own life,’ says Ms. Gevelber. “Every day, Noah asked questions because he wanted to know more about a person's life story or understand the layers behind why an event happened. Noah also had an amazing way of connecting his own story and experiences to the historical material. His personal reactions brought the course to life. I really believe that his classmates learned as much from Noah, as they did from me."

Madison West Junior Noah AndersonNow that Noah’s grades are on the rise, he plans to apply to film schools, not only to follow on the path of his cousin, Hollywood director George Tillman Jr., but to find a bigger stage to inspire upcoming generations to learn who they are so they don’t make the mistake he was about to—“taking all of the sacrificing for us in vain by not trying my hardest.” He also has a non-profit in the think tank called “Hoods of Re-creation,” that he says will somehow work to offset the losses many people of color endured because the GI Bill did nothing to bolster their standard of living as it did white folks after WW2.

Meanwhile, Noah says he is lucky to have two supportive parents—his father Marian is a security guard at West High and his mother Ozanne works for the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership—and is proud of his work with Black Student Union talking to city leaders about how the system can better support Black students. He’s also proud of his long-time volunteer service through his church’s summer leadership camp.

“I want to make an impact on this world—it’s a waste to go through this world and not make an impact.”

–Pat Dillion