Local students of color were recognized on Saturday by the Women of Color Giving Circle.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Forty-seven high school students of color from throughout Berkshire County were recognized in advance of their upcoming graduation at a celebration event Saturday held by the Women of Color Giving Circle.
"This is one of our largest graduating classes since we started," said Yvonne West, who heads the organization.
The reception, held upstairs from business sponsor Mad Jacks BBQ, was the ninth of its kind since the Women of Color Giving Circle was formed a decade ago, and included a gift for each graduating senior along with plentiful advice from community leaders.
"A lot of people now don't think of high school as that big a challenge, but it really is," Mayor Daniel Bianchi told the students present. "It's a great accomplishment, and the next step of your life is going to be just as exciting, perhaps even more exciting."
"These paths that you're going to be choosing, and going down, and stumbling on here and there, are many and varied," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, "But know that your community is behind you, we support you, and we expect great things from you."
"So much of how Pittsfield will be, how Massachusetts will be, and how America will be rests with you, and with you putting actions behind your hopes and dreams and expectations for who we should be as a people," said Superintendent of Schools Jason McCandless. "Because of you, I face every day with great hope."
According to numbers recently cited
by the Berkshire County NAACP, African-American students in Pittsfield currently graduate at a 7 percent lower rate than white students.
Keynote speaker Barbara Krauthamer spoke of the challenges she continues to face as a woman of color in an academic setting.
Krauthamer is an associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and co-author of "Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery," the 2013 NAACP Image Award recipient for Outstanding Literary Work in non-fiction.
"I still encounter colleagues who question my presence on the faculty, and who maintain that African-American women's history is not a legitimate field of study," said Krauthamer.
She spoke extensively on the need for self-representation to avoid being defined by the expectations of others.
"As you enter the world of young adulthood, you will encounter people who aim to tell you who you are, to tell you what you can and cannot do, or be, or achieve," said Krauthamer. "Do not accept their rules."
She urged the students to continue to be both self-reflective and engaged in their environments, and to allow themselves to embrace the element of uncertainty in their life journeys.
"Take the time to know your own strengths and your weaknesses and your limits as you see them. Do not let others set them for you," she told the graduates-to-be.
About a third of the 47 graduates were in attendance, and many others who were at work or engaged in sports or scholastics had their gifts accepted by parents or family members. A majority of the graduates recognized are bound for colleges around the region and beyond in the fall.