Malaysia Fuller-Staten can’t pinpoint the first time she was targeted for her skin color, because there have been many small instances of bias, she said, but one situation a few years ago stands out.
Fuller-Staten, who is black and a Roxbury native, was 16 years old when she and a friend were shopping at a high-end cosmetic store. The two were looking for a gift for the friend’s cousin. They found the item and waited for an employee to help them. The girls waited and waited and waited.
The employees ignored the teens, said Fuller-Staten, who is now 19. “People who were walking in after us were helped, but employees were walking past us like we didn’t exist. At one point I said, ‘Let’s just wait to see if anyone ever speaks to us.’ No one ever did.”
The not-so-subtle act of prejudice left Fuller-Staten feeling powerless, she said. Both students soon joined the Center for Teen Empowerment, a community group that employs low-income teens to identify pressing issues in their communities and find ways to address them.
On Tuesday, the center is joining with Boston city officials and other activist organizations to lead a discussion on racism. The event will take place at 5:30 p.m., at Hibernian Hall in Boston, 184 Dudley St.
Fuller-Staten will be there, as will other young people who are taking a more active role in addressing the issue of race relations and racism in Boston and beyond.
The event, called Racism Talks, Together We Walk, is a way for young to share their stories and begin to work on solutions, Fuller-Staten said.
In November, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh kicked off a series of “citywide conversations about racism” with a talk in part meant to acknowledge the city’s racially divisive past, as well as look toward its future.
Jose Capo, a program coordinator at the teen empowerment group, said the city spends a lot of time talking about its mistakes (like the contentious busing history) without analyzing their long-lasting effects, or the systems that let those instances occur in the first place.
Boston's future, he said, is with its youth. The 14- to 21-year-olds who will have a voice in Tuesday’s talk didn’t experience much of the racially charged events in Boston's recent history, like the court-ordered desegregation of public schools. But the young people today still live in a system that allowed that kind of racial bias, he said.
“The things we’re experiencing today aren’t new things,” he said. “Racism has existed for so long, and young people have such a powerful voice in all of it.”
The center hopes that the talk will reach both people of color and white residents, who both have a role in “dismantling” racism, Capo said.
“Ultimately, we’re framing the conversation where racism is a disease and racial bias is the infection,” he said. “Until we have active conversations, where we’re destigmatizing, destereotyping things we have racial bias for, we’re not going to be able to get rid of the disease of racism.”