To the Friends who Stayed Silent

A letter from a young activist.

Introduction from the Editor:

I was introduced to Henri Somadjagbi, a recent graduate from Clayton High School in North Carolina, when he joined Allies for Black Voices to discuss his massive social media platform and his use of it to ‘take action and do his part,’ for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Seeing the power of the next generation and their ability to organize, vocalize, and make a difference was moving, as a high school teacher and an activist. One of the most poignant moments was when Henri was asked if he lost friendships because of his more recent vocal activism.

Image from the Instagram of @jberg33

He responded, “Actually, yeah…a lot.”

He continued to explain that his anger arose from friends and classmates who partook in the products of Black culture, from music, to style, and slang, “Yet when we need you, you don’t want to speak up.”

“I spoke, and so much happened. I lit that match.”

Henri Somadjagbi

Under the surface of Henri’s measured response, you could sense the frustration and sadness, but also the very mature resolve in understanding that some friendships don’t withstand true tests of this magnitude.

When he created a post, directed to those silent friends, he received responses and comments asking him if he was going to let something like this ‘ruin our friendship.’ His reply:

“Yes. You are supposed to be my friend… You have to see my color…that’s what this whole fight is about. This is something that is a threat to my life. You have a voice too, you make a big difference.”

In that moment, from the voice of a young 18-year-old, wisdom and insight into the reality of relationships and the fight for equality in this country became sharply clarified. If you do not speak up and stand as an ally, it is your loss, not Henri’s.

From the Instagram of Henri @henrisomad

Below is a letter I asked Henri to write for the site, unedited:

To the friends that stayed silent,

When the black lives matter movement began, I immediately decided to take action &’ do my part. I consistently shared everything and anything I could on all my social media platforms to inform my supporters, friends &’ family.

As I got farther into my activism, I realised many of my non-coloured friends weren’t speaking about what’s going on, and it left me very upset and disappointed. I made a statement saying “if you aren’t speaking about what’s going on &’ you’re non-coloured… I don’t want you apart of my life anymore” Everyone has the right to say &’ do what they believe in, you have the right to be silent if you choose to… but I equally have the right to defriend you if you’re quiet.

Some of the same people who were asking me questions such as “would you be mad if I said the N-word” &’ get upset with me when I say yes are now saying “I don’t see color” or statements that are viewed negatively towards black lives… others just didn’t care enough to reach out to me and say anything, or stay silent.

I felt hurt &’ betrayed. Some of my friends that I’ve had for two years now… relationships ended. On top of that I know many of them use the n-word in the dark where no one can hear them, but in the light when black lives matter you can’t scream “black lives matter”?

Having “friends” who love black culture, using black slang, &’ having me as a black friend &’ then being silent when MY life is at risk…is one of the most significant moments of betrayal I’ve ever felt. 

Henri

And, as Henri said, you have a voice and a platform. What are you doing with it? Are you standing on the right side of history?

Follow Henri:

  • Tiktok: @Henriidanger
  • Instagram: @henrisomad
  • Twitter: @Henriidanger

Check out the full Allies for Black Voices discussion:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiM3ESiX9Ek

And Visit the ‘Pick up the Battle’ Page on the side menu of the site to see where you can become an ally.

4 Students, 1 Summer Mission

I think it’s important to use the privilege and power that comes with my white skin to uplift those who our country has failed time and time again.

The Origin of Allies for Black Voices

By Grace Crangle

My name is Grace Crangle, I’m 19 years old, and I have lived most of my life in Northern Virginia. Once I graduated high school though, I decided that I wanted to see more of the world than just Virginia. I am currently a rising sophomore at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.

I am majoring and Communication Studies and minoring in Film Studies in order to hopefully pursue a career in social media and/or the film industry. I’ve always had a passion for creating content that is not only important to me, but that is also important to others, and I hope to one day change the world!

I’ve always been very passionate about social justice issues like feminism and racial justice, but now that I’m a young adult, and with the recent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve realized that there is more than I can (and should) do than just post on social media about it. Two of my best friends, Roma Sharma and Nikita Sajai, felt the exact same way.

This was much easier said than done, however. Because we are in the midst of a pandemic, and we realized that not everyone was able to go out to protest, canvas, march, or attend events with a large crowd. Roma, Nikita, and I wanted to figure out a safe alternative to support the Black community while keeping ourselves and others safe.

We found that while we, as non-Black individuals, want to speak UP for the Black community, it is equally as important to not speak OVER.

The three of us decided to join forces with another mutual friend, Pooja Tanjore, and she got us connected with the Loudoun County National Organization for Women (NOW http://loudouncountynow.org).

Before we knew it, we were on a Zoom call with NOW members and figured out our plan: we were going to host weekly Zoom sessions led by members of the Black community in order to provide their voices with a platform and encourage our community to listen and learn how to be the best allies possible. We found that while we, as non-Black individuals, want to speak UP for the Black community, it is equally as important to not speak OVER. By providing a platform for these voices who are too often silenced, Allies for Black Voices was born.

As of now, July 18th, 2020, we are almost in week five of our sessions. I have put everything into creating our Instagram account, making the flyers each week, advertising the sessions accordingly, and recording and uploading the sessions onto our YouTube channel. I’m not going to lie; Allies for Black Voices has put a lot on my plate. With that though, has come one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.

First Allies session with the captivating George Lee (https://georgeleespeaks.com/).

For the first time, I feel as though what I am doing is REALLY making a difference. It has been an incredible opportunity to make these connections and to meet so many inspiring Black leaders, business owners, social media influencers, and fellow activists. I think this kind of experience is so necessary, especially for myself as a white person, because of the privilege that comes with the color of my skin. If I really wanted to, I could just delete social media and never have to think about the Black Lives Matter movement ever again – simply because it doesn’t impact my daily life.

I think it’s important to use the privilege and power that comes with my white skin to uplift those who our country has failed time and time again.

My white skin is a shield from the racism, discrimination, and violence that Black people have to experience every day, simply because of the color of THEIR skin. For this reason, I think it’s important to use the privilege and power that comes with my white skin to uplift those who our country has failed time and time again.

Going forward, I’m not really sure where this project will take me. While our series is planned for the rest of the summer, we’re not quite sure what will happen to Allies for Black Voices in the fall and beyond. I would love to keep this going in some way, shape, or form, and I know that the rest of the team agrees. Personally, whether it’s with Allies for Black Voices or not, I want to continue to advocate for social justice.

I’ve considered politics, activism, and everything in between- all I know is that I want to help people. I want to live for more than just myself. So, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

Become an Ally and join this Thursday’s session at 4 p.m.
And continue to keep up with Allies for Black Voices: