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Being Black in America: Shannon McFarland

In her words, an African American community resident shares a first-person story about what it looks, feels and sounds like to be black in America.

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Continuing a conversation we’ve hosted since June, The News-Gazette asked African American community members to share their stories and solutions in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.

Featured today: Urbana High School Hall of Famer SHANNON McFARLAND, a 2009 Clark Atlanta University grad and freelance publicist.

If you’d like to share your story, email jdalessio@news-gazette.com. To view the entire series, click here.

Shannon McFarland

Shannon McFarland

'Someday, being Black in America will be more than enough'

By SHANNON McFARLAND

Lately, you know what I’ve noticed? That being Black in America means we have been presenting ourselves as ​more than ​in order to be seen as equal to others.

That’s messed up, right? There seems to be some sort of private meeting around who makes the goal post for being good enough.

In general, Black people do not get the same graces as other groups in America. Here, Black people have to be ​more than ​a runner to get home safely. We have to be more than a tireless EMT to have a safe night’s rest in our beds. We have to be more than compliant to go home to our girls after being questioned by the police.

Being Black in America means we have to be more to simply be here. We have to abide by rules for protocol and are told it will all be OK. Talk about traumatic conversations.

One in particular is realizing how much energy actually went into being one of the only Black girls in my learning environment.

I’m no stranger to going against the majority. In fact, I have been the exception for a lot of situations. I dropped out of preschool during the ‘90s, grew up watching Regis and Kathie Lee on TV, “The Young and the Restless” before lunch and “Supermarket Sweep” with my grandparents after spending afternoons at the park.

My approach to home learning confirmed that I didn’t need to develop doing the same things as my peers. By the time I got to school, I was more than a student, more than an athlete, more than a Black girl and more than what anyone expected.

I got along well with my peers growing up in Urbana. My neighborhood was part of the busing agenda for elementary school in the early ‘80s-’90s, which placed me and my siblings in an environment that was majority White.

In East Urbana, we were quite frequently made out to be one of the only Black kids in social circles and teams. We didn’t mind, we were kids having fun. I had an incredible youth experience, and I would say it was hugely due to sports. This is also why I chose to play at an HBCU during college. I wanted to be where it wasn’t my job to be more than a Black girl, now it was my job to be more than a student.

My older siblings were athletes, too. They had the same shake and were instrumental in me knowing how to move, how to pack my own snacks, how long I would have to wait for mom and dad after practice, and how to not let people get in my head.

There was a heightened level of security instilled in me, for sure. I would grow up and have big brother confidence and big sister wit to be good with being one of the Black girls in the group. Especially with having the longest car ride home.

My parents are a second-generation Ellis Drive family of over 34 years, and we are literally blocks from the Champaign city line (on the right side) of Wright Street. Being Black in Urbana meant that a school outside of my neighborhood would deliver “a more adequate education” for me. This created some frustration for my mom. I felt it, too.

My parents have been working professionals most of their lives so choosing the best environment for their family was a no-brainer. This neighborhood (and the reason families purchase homes) has a phenomenal school that delivers great international intellect. I can only say it would have been a privilege to attend school in my own community.

Recently, being Black in America has hit differently. Quarantine has me experiencing daily trauma both in my community and online. I can’t even count — it has been murder after murder. This social unrest needs peace, and my passion is to engineer great news. Even when that means swimming upstream — because we for sure deserve better than this.

Someday, being Black in America will be more than enough.

Urbana native Shannon McFarland is a 2009 graduate of Clark Atlanta University and freelance publicist.