Judy Woodruff: Shortly before the pandemic, our Brief But Spectacular team traveled to Georgia, where they spoke with two high school seniors, Audrey McNeal and Shaylon Walker about race and being underestimated.

Shaylon Walker: I recently got a full ride to a very prestigious university. And I went back to go visit my elementary school teachers.

And so there’s this one teacher. She runs into me in the hall. And the other teacher I was walking with, she starts bragging on me. And she’s like: “Yes, Shaylon here has got a full ride to Boston University.”

And the other teacher stops. And she goes: “So, what — what is it?”

And I was like: “What is what?”

She’s like: “What’s your sport?”

Excuse me.


Shaylon Walker: I got an academic and leadership scholarship. I don’t play a sport.

Audrey McNeal: Two years ago, I was sitting in my graphics and design class, and there was an anonymous death threat using the N-word. There was no investigation whatsoever.

Black people, we internalize these things. Does my life really matter to my school or my community or my county, who doesn’t even want to look into these threats?

Shaylon Walker: When you even look at how teachers interact with students of color vs. white students, when a teacher comes up to you and you respond in a manner that might not be cheerful or might not be what they want to hear, it’s automatically, oh, you have an attitude.

And I have experienced this. I’m not even that type of person. Like, if you know me, I don’t even have that type of attitude. And so when I get that, it’s kind of like, whoa.

But then, each time, it kind of becomes less and less like a whoa, because it is a pattern. It’s so familiar. Oh, if I’m not smiling, oh, I’m going to be taken as an angry Black woman.

And we have parents come forward. We have actual students come forward. We have picture evidence. We have recordings. We have everything saying, hey, we have a problem here. But the county comes back to us, and they’re like, no, we have had training on that. No, that’s not happening.

You’re not going to make me think I’m crazy, because I know what I feel and I know what I see every day.

Audrey McNeal: There’s this quote by Benjamin Franklin that says that justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are just as outraged as those who are.

So, sometimes, when I’m the only Black person in the classroom that has to speak on issues that are particularly challenging or things that make me or other people feel uncomfortable, it keeps me going, because I know that these conversations are important, and it pushes me to challenge not only myself, but my peers, to talk about these things.

Shaylon Walker: The first thing you have to do is acknowledge the problem.

Even if it may not be you or your people group, you have to take a step back and look in and see that something is wrong.

Once you have learned about the issue, you’re going to take that knowledge and enlighten others. You’re going to open their eyes to something that may not even be apparent to them.

And so, once you have done all those three things, you yourself have created a vessel for change. You are a catalyst that will lead to a greater future for those coming after us.

Audrey McNeal: My family has lived in Georgia for generations. We have directly been affected by the institution of slavery.

And so I see a people, especially in my family, that is strong and people who want to fight for change and to keep moving forward. I use that to inspire myself to keep creating change, because it can be done.

My name is Audrey McNeal.

Shaylon Walker: My name is Shaylon Walker.

Audrey McNeal: And this is my Brief But Spectacular take…

Shaylon Walker: … on acknowledging that there’s a problem.

Judy Woodruff: Two strong young women.