Hope Leadership Academy is a teen center in Harlem that gives young people a safe place to process their feelings on violence and serves as a foundation for college and career access. In honor of Black History Month, we asked youth at our center to share with us their favorite quotes from civil rights leaders, activists, and educators – and explain their significance.
Many of these students participated in the Madison Square Garden Virtual Classroom Program this year. They learned valuable lessons from accomplished figures like Becky Hammon, the first woman NBA Coach; and Adriano Espaillat, the first Dominican member of Congress. They also reflected on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
Abdoulaye Diallo, 18
“Every time we get a chance to get ahead they move the finish line” – Mary Jackson
This is my favorite quote because of how true and deep the quote is. The meaning to this quote goes back to the struggles of Black people since slavery and how bad they were treated because of their skin tone. Through the centuries, Black people have been treated in ways I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Every time we get a step closer to solving the issues Black people face, another problem always arises. Once slavery ended and we thought our freedom was a given, the world brought segregation. And then the Civil Rights Movement took place with the help of MLK, Rosa Parks, and other activists. Then segregation came to an end. Now, Black people are still getting treated unfairly and are disproportionally victims of police shootings. The police brutality and unfairness to Black people will always be here no matter how hard we work to stop it.
Amaya McCollough, 17
“We are one people with one family. We all live in the same house… and through books, through information, we must find a way to say to people that we must lay down the burden of hate. For hate is too heavy a burden to bear.” – John Lewis
This is my favorite quote because John Lewis was a very influential person in the Civil Rights Movement, and he is saying that we must learn to love rather than hate those around us. I believe that loving people for who they are, rather than carrying hate and misery in your heart, is important in bringing everyone together.
Tamoya Nedd, 17
“Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.” – Rosa Parks
This is my favorite quote because this is explaining that your memories and work can lead into good deeds and positively impact your life. I learned that if you set an example for people, they can always follow your path of accomplishment.
Dalia Quinones, 17
“Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew.” – Cicely Tyson
This is my favorite quote because it shows that, though you may be going through struggles that push you to your limits, those limits reveal the strongest parts of yourself. When we go through struggles, we often sell ourselves short because they bring us to our worst points and make us feel weak. In reality, we are making ourselves stronger by overcoming our most challenging times, and I find that so beautiful. This quote by Cicely Tyson touched my heart and my mind the moment I read it, and I carry it with me in my daily life. I know that no matter what struggles or challenges I face, I will always come out a better, stronger person.
Benedicta Donkor, 18
“If they don’t give you seat the table bring a folding chair.” – Shirley Chisholm
It’s my favorite quote because it reminds me that, no matter the circumstance or obstacle that is present in life, I have the power to find a solution to make my presence known. I’ve learned to always find a way to make my voice heard and remain confident in who I am and my intelligence – even when my environment belittles me!
Jaden Samuels, 18
"As long as we are not ourselves, we will try to be what other people are." – Malidoma Patrice Somé (Of Water and the Spirit)
It’s a reminder to appreciate yourself – because otherwise you’ll start to act like someone you’re not.
Kwame Acheampong, 17
"Freedom is not something that one people can bestow on another as a gift. Thy claim it as their own and none can keep it from them." – Kwame Nkrumah
This is one of my favorite quotes due to its message. I believe the quote properly describes that all people are born free. This freedom that they have at birth can't be taken away and then given back as a reward. Freedom is a birthright that all people have, and it cannot and should not ever be taken away. One of the many lessons I learned from Kwame Nkrumah was unity and having pride in one’s country.
“The best thinker is someone who can think ahead of the present time and set a strategy into motion that will best secure his future.” – Sistah Souljah
It’s my favorite quote because it is from my favorite book by my favorite author. But the quote really hit me during quarantine and made me want to get my life together. Not only in the physical aspect, but also mentally and physically. I learned that spirituality and manifestation is really how you achieve anything in life, and every time I read this quote it helps. It makes me want to continue the journey to further better myself and my surroundings as well as the people in my circle and around me.
Milani Hudson, 17
“History has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” – Michelle Obama
This quote by Michelle Obama is my favorite because I feel that this quote does not only target women; it targets people of all ages and gender identities. The lessons that Michelle Obama has taught as an author – which are portrayed in not only this quote, but also in her book, Becoming – are perseverance and faith. This quote can act as motivation for not just the youth, but also for anyone to be courageous and create change in the world.