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A student-made video at Wauwatosa West High School has shed light on race and what it means to be black.

The video, which was released on YouTube late last month, is entitled "Just Because I'm Black Doesn't Mean," and aims to dispel some of the stereotypes that black students at the high school often face, said Thomas Leonard, 17, a senior and a driving force behind the creation of the video.

Leonard said black students sometimes experience microaggressions, or insults and dismissals against African-American students by others. Leonard said the microaggressions are often innocent in nature, but are subtle forms of racism.

In the four-minute video created by the school's Black Student Union — an organization for students of all races that gather to discuss social justice issues and spread cultural awareness — students take turns slinging common stereotypes about black students.

"Just because I'm black doesn't mean I know how to dance," said one student in the video. "Just because I'm black doesn't mean I grew up poor," said another.

"Just because we're black doesn't mean we live in the 'hood," said 17-year-old Jomari Ross in unison with another female student featured in the video.

BSU member Alyssa Pumphrey, 17, said people often act surprised when she tells them she lives in Wauwatosa.

"People always think I'm from Milwaukee," she said.

Pumphrey's line in the video would have been "Just because I'm black doesn't mean I don't have goals and aspirations for my future," but it was cut as it doubled up with another student's remarks.

Pumphrey nodded when asked if she's been the target of such a stereotype.

 

Ross, also a member of BSU, said the group invited black students across the school to participate in the video and many were eager to join in.

Ross said she's witnessed microaggressions at the school, like when a teacher approaches the only black student in the classroom and asks how they're holding up and handling the course when they don't ask the same of the white students in class.

After the video was published online, Ross said a number of BSU members received a letter from school administration thanking them for their work.

"It made me feel happy and I felt like I had accomplished something," said Ross, of the letter.

Michael Green, 16, a junior at Wauwatosa West High School, chose to say "Just Because I'm black doesn't mean I'm ignorant and should be written off," in the video.

Green, who's enrolled in a handful of advanced placement courses, said he's sometimes the only black student in many of his classes and often feels like "all eyes" are on him. He added in all his schooling, he's never had a black teacher.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 23.2 percent of students enrolled at Wauwatosa West High School during the 2015-16 school year were black. About 17.6 percent of students at Wauwatosa East High School were black.

"What's important about black culture is that black culture is not limited, it's not small," Leonard said in the video. "It has a very, very rich history."

Leonard said the video is beneficial to everyone who sees it and helps dispel misconceptions about a group of students often misrepresented.

In July, Leonard will compete in the international poetry slam competition Brave New Voices in Washington D.C. The student writes original poetry, often about social justice issues, he said.

"These people are smart and brilliant," he said of black students at Wauwatosa West. "These people matter."

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