Alana Caire appreciates the diversity at West High School, where she is in her junior year. What impressed her the most her freshman year was how the student body galvanizes behind social issues that affect people of color. Like a rally with Black Lives Matter that year after a racially-motivated killing got national attention. Alana was struck by the support.
“The rally was mixed with a diverse background of people, which was really powerful for me,” says Alana. “I like the ability for people at West to see realism and see societal problems. We stood in a circle in front of the school and were talking about it. People were shouting out things that had happened and their realistic points of view behind all of these shootings against young Black men. It was shocking.”
But Alana thinks facing race relations in the classroom is an altogether different subject, and not always a comfortable one. Alana perceives discussions about Black struggles to make white students uneasy. For that, she wishes there were more Black teachers to lead those important conversations with cultural consciousness.
“Whenever we talk about the things that Blacks struggled with throughout the years, the white students are reluctant to talk about it because it targets them and the things white people have done to suppress and oppress us, so it’s definitely an uncomfortable situation for them to be in,” says Alana.
Still, Alana appreciates her white African American History teacher, Emily Miller, because she feels the subject is taught with sensitivity and cultural competence. She is grateful that Ms. Miller is upfront about her whiteness and respectful about her participation in the conversation.
“Ms. Miller shows difficult things in class to students who haven’t learned about it all,” she says.
“She’s white but she’s not going to pretend to understand us and knows these are struggles that my ancestors have gone through, and I really appreciate that. I feel like other teachers in general who address that, are like ok, we’re going to talk about this, and then that’s that. I feel there’s more importance to it than just talking about it. There’s a depth you need to go into.”
In turn, Ms. Miller attributes crucial conversations about race in her classroom to Alana’s steady hand in leading the charge. “She has a calm, dignified demeanor that takes our class discussions to a higher level,” says Ms. Miller. “Alana does not hesitate to directly confront difficult issues about race and its impact on our country's history and contemporary society, but she does so in a precise manner which respects all people's opinions and voice.”
Alana looks to the future with confidence. Rightfully so. She maintains a 3.5 GPA and has set her sights on colleges in Maryland where her mother, Lisa Peyton Caire, the founder of Black Women’s Wellness, attended college. Her father, Kaleem Caire, the founder of One City Schools, is a Madison West alumnus. Their influence and hard work, she says, motivates her to do her best, but is clear to add, that she does it for herself, too. And with her determination and clarity, Alana may very well have her pick of the colleges she plans to apply to—Chesapeake College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Hampton College and College Park, Maryland and William and Mary.
“Alana is a quiet warrior who is strong in her opinions and beliefs about justice and fairness for everyone,” says Mr. Caire. “She is also an exceptionally bright student and gifted young leader who is a loyal, loved by her teachers, dedicated to her family and friends, and determined to succeed and help others.”
- Pat Dillon