Abre’ Conner won’t stop fighting for underrepresented communities to have a voice.
By Heather Wood Rudulph
Abre’ Conner grew up in a small town in Central Florida, where she was accustomed to racism both covert and blatant. These experiences shaped her desire to work on behalf of others. She has worked on Capitol Hill and for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and is now a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, focusing on environmental justice, and social and civil rights — causes she has no plans to stop fighting for.
The first time I was called the N-word was by a classmate. I told my teacher about it and nothing was done. [When I was older, a] report was returned to me with a low grade. The teacher said, “There’s no way you could have written this with this level of analysis.” It was the first piece of work [the teacher] had ever seen from me. All [the teacher] knew about me was that I was a young black woman.
When my American history class in high school decided to leave out the civil rights era and only teach it as an extra-credit lesson, I spoke up. Excluding the civil rights struggle from an understanding of American history shapes how people think about others in very real ways. I questioned my teacher and talked about it with other students. My parents, who had always encouraged me to speak up for myself and be an advocate, were called in.
Eventually the principal decided that the issue wasn’t something they should pursue. No one apologized [to me], and I wasn’t in a position of power to change the mind-sets of adults who had always felt this way.
College was a time when I started to learn more about civil rights work and especially how it benefits young people. I was studying business marketing and political science at the University of Florida, taking African-American studies courses, and I was very active in campus organizations like the Black Student Union. My freshman year in 2005, the campus newspaper published a cartoon of Kanye West in a joker suit and Condoleezza Rice standing behind him with a thought bubble that said, “N-word, please.”
The Black Student Union marched down to the newspaper in a symbolic protest. The school decided to remove all of the newsstands until [the paper] issued an apology. That opened my eyes to a totally different way of looking at how people can evoke change. I understood why in the 1960s and ’70s, students were at the forefront of the civil rights movement, using demonstrations in that way. It made me want to delve more deeply into advocacy work.
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