By McKenna Leavens and Lauren Lippert
On May 25, 2020, a 46-year-old black man was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minn during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.
The man murdered was George Floyd.
This called the Black Lives Matter (BLM) to action on a national level. Co-founded in 2013 by three black women; Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, BLM is dedicated “to eradicating white supremacy and building local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.”
According to BLM, at least 14 unarmed black people were killed by police officers last year and only ONE of the officers was indicted. With that being said 84% of police officers interviewed from 100 departments across the country said they had seen colleagues use excessive force.
African-American youth are nine times more likely than white youth to be sentenced as adults for the same crime. Prison sentences for black men are about 20% longer than white men for the same crime, according to the BLM website.
Due to the many deaths of black men and women at the hands of police officers, the BLM movement has become stronger than ever.
Many powerful black women have come forward and told their stories, one woman, in particular, is 21-year-old Mariah Barnett. Barnett has been an ongoing advocate for the black community and has become not only one of the most heard voices in Tucson, Arizona but a role model for others to look up too.
Barnett was one of four women, all students in her community, who organized a rally that took place on June 3.
“We planned it in three or four days, I don’t know how we put it together that quickly,” Barnett said. “It’s the power of social media, we put it out and people started sharing it.”
She is a senior at The University of Arizona, majoring in Political science with a minor in African studies with an emphasis on hip hop culture. Barnett will be graduating in December and already has a job lined up with Teach for America where she will be working in a low-income area for two years following her dream to be an educator.
However, it took a great deal of strength and perseverance to get to where she is today.
It wasn’t until fourth grade where things took a turn for the worse when she was called the N-word for the first time.
“I didn’t understand the significance of the word,” Barnett said. “I just came home and nonchalantly mentioned it to my parents.”
As one out of the two black kids in the class, Barnett said that it was the first time she noticed she was “different.”
“He had to have known that there was something different about me to call me that,” Barnett said.
Throughout the years Barnett experienced racism but her senior year of high school changed her life forever.
“My senior year was the year Trump got elected, I had always dealt with racism at my high school but the year he got elected was when groups started standing out holding the Confederate flag,” she said.
As an everyday occurrence, kids at her high school would stand and hold the flag in the hallway, a lot of the students and parents complained to the principal.
“I had no problem being the face of it and spearheading it because I didn’t think anything bad would come of it,” Barnett said. The confederate flag became banned from Barnett’s high school and it was only to be used for educational purposes.
“Everyone blamed me for getting the flag banned so that’s when I started getting backlash,” She said. People would accuse her of making it up and only doing it for attention.
“It’s burnt in my memory forever of people calling me the N-word,” Barnett said.
The principal and faculty told her that they could not guarantee her safety if she came back to school, so she made the decision to leave halfway through her senior year due to excessive bullying and finishing the year out online.
“It was not an easy decision, I left a dance team that I once loved and I didn’t get to graduate with people I once thought were my friends,” Barnett said, “I was traumatized, no one stood by my side. I was hurt but I didn’t let it destroy my voice. My voice is stronger now than ever before.”
Now, there’s a black student union at her old high school and the teacher that helps run it told Barnett that it was her courage and her sacrifice that started it.
After Barnett’s senior year she found herself feeling hopeless. During her freshman year of college she made the decision that she wasn’t going to live in the dorms because she was still traumatized from her high school experience.
At orientation, Barnett’s dad saw a booth where it talked about a black dorm hall. “My dad told me I had to do it, and I remember telling him how scared I was and how I didn’t want to move but he convinced me and thank god he did because I don’t know where I would be right now if it weren’t for that dorming experience,” Barnett said. Everyone in the dorm hall was an instant family and community, she said.
She then ended up working at her school’s MLK Center which is a part of UofA’s African American Student Affairs program. The program helps African American students develop leadership skills, promote social justice, improve academic abilities while also enhancing their African American cultural experience. At the MLK center, there are various Coalition of Black Organizations or COBO’s offered. According to Barnett, some include a black student union, a black Honors Society, a black engineers club and so much more.
She ended up finishing her freshman year with the highest GPA in her dorm program and a program leadership award.
“It was a complete 360 from my senior year of high school,” Barnett said.
Barnett couldn’t have made it that far without the support from her family, but most importantly her dad. She has always had a special bond with her dad, “He taught me everything there is to know about being black,” she said.
Barnett’s dad is a retired firefighter who has faced a lot of discrimination at the fire department, but he never let that stop him, she said.
He became a captain and won firefighter of the year. Yet, he still faced discrimination where more often than not people he worked with would lie and say he wasn’t properly doing his job or they would call him the N-word.
Yet through all of his hardships, it never stopped his motivation to succeed.
“He has always taught me and my brother that you will have to work ten times harder than everyone else, and I am really proud to call him my dad,” Barnett said.
In terms of the future Barnett is hoping for a revolution.
“The Minneapolis police department has been dismantled, and I think a lot of other places need to follow suit,” she said.
Barnett explained how crime happens because people don’t have the proper resources to better educate themselves so her solution is if the government allocates funds to schools, housing, and education and after school programs, then it would result in less crime.
“My end goal, ultimately is to see the entire criminal justice and police force dismantled and something else built in their place that caters to everyone,” Barnett said, “And in addition to those systems I think the education system needs to be dismantled and the political system, they’re just not accessible to everyone and I think they need to be.”
Barnett’s advice to her non-black family and friends is to show up and listen.
“Just show up for us. Listen to us if we tell you something is racist or offensive, listen to us. Educate yourselves and don’t just rely on your black friends to educate you because that’s not our job. Do some self-reflecting and reflecting in your family, you can’t be afraid to call people out,” She said. “I know it can be scary but black people do it every day and we’ve lost family, we’ve lost friends and it sucks but the alternative sucks worse for us.”
Through the prejudiced comments, racial slurs, and having to pretty much reinvent herself, Barnett has persevered through various obstacles to get to where she is today. People tried to beat her down with their words but instead, she rose above and made her words heard.
With the lessons that she learned, she would tell her younger self to “Hang in there, it’s going to get so much better. Don’t give up, it’s better on the other side and it’ll all be worth it.”
If you are looking to help in any way we have attached links to sign petitions, donate and educate.