Someone to watch -- and read

Tzaih McNair

Tziah McNair is cautious in claiming her 3.93 GPA because one never knows what can happen in the next few months. But when she starts speaking, it becomes clear that the odds of her maintaining it, or it going higher, are in her favor.

“I want to make my parents proud,” say Tziah, a sophomore at La Follette High School. “If I had different parents, I don’t know if I’d be where I am now. They push me to do better.”

Tziah has grace. And not just because her name means “Whom God Loves” or because her father is a pastor and she grew up in the church. She’s poised and confident, and when asked if she’d like to contribute an article on Black Excellence to this website, she quickly asks the parameters and accepts.

The question may be owing to her position as co-editor of the La Follette student newspaper, The Lance. “I like writing, journalism and just literature in general,” says Tziah. “As I’ve grown up and read more, it’s made me want to tell my own stories as well. I think part of that too stems from the fact that I’m into activism and social reform and I want to read about it and write my take on issue.”

With her Lance team, Tziah is currently tackling the topic of privilege, a subject that she has insights into from both sides. While Tziah has some privilege in her life because of social standing—her mother owns a well respected business, Anesis Marriage and Family Therapy, and her father is a pastor at a prominent evangelical free church—her Blackness puts her at a disadvantage even in a privileged setting. As the only black female student in her private middle school, Tziah learned early to cope with not seeing people who look like her.

“One privilege people have is simply being able to look around and see people who look like them in classes,” says Tziah. “Because I take the mostly honors classes, and I don’t have the privilege of seeing people who look like me, that in some ways puts me at a disadvantage just because it can be hard to cope with. That can take a toll on you emotionally and mentally.” 

How do Students of Color like Tziah cope? Some choose to leave for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Tziah is working hard to earn acceptance to Howard University, a HBCU in Washington D.C.

“ I think being surrounded by other Students of Color who want to learn and have drive could be rewarding in itself.”

With the two years left at La Follette, Tziah will continue to pursue her love of music. She is currently in the spring musical, “Suessical,” through which she enjoys the community that theater builds for students. With intention, she will continue to seek out opportunities to surround herself with other Black students, such as applying to the rigorous academic summer program for Students of Color at Cornell University that focuses on “critical Black and ethnic studies.” She also pursues activities that are Black-centric, such as Black Student Union for which she is the vice-president and positioned to take the lead spot next year. She also works on projects like Diversity Week that aims to bolster “world-wide wokeness,” a project Tziah values because she believes it’s important to showcase cultures other than her own. 

“I think a lot of the times that we can really be wrapped up in self, and this topic is important because we need to take a step back to see what other people are dealing with and educate our selves.”

To that end, Tziah traveled to Morocco last summer on a full scholarship. With an emphasis on service learning rather than “saving” other cultures, as she perceives U.S. volunteer trips to often do, Tziah stayed with a host family while learning about their culture and language. “It was the most beautiful experience of my life, it was so rewarding, I encourage everyone to do it,” she says.

Tziah is still deciding what she wants to do long term. For a while she considered civil law, as she considers herself an activist and wants to be part of social change. She’s put that on the back burner for now, but to that end she likes to post articles and opinions on social media and occasionally attends rallies like the student-driven march for gun control.

“Mainly I write things I can relate to, like being an African American, female student in a white, male dominated society” she says.

It’s another safe bet that anything she writes will come from a thoughtful, critical place. Watch for her article on Black Feminism here. This will let Tziah show her color, and prove all that’s been written about her here. She’s someone to watch. And read.