WXXI AM News

Brighton native says her school experiences shaped her attitudes about race and white privilege

Sep 28, 2020

Jen Willsea at her 1998 graduation from Brighton High School with her grandparents and parents.
Credit provided photo

The death of Daniel Prude following his suffocation while in the custody of Rochester police last March has made headlines across the country.

A 1998 graduate of Brighton High School who is now living in Atlanta said the news hit her like a gut punch.

Jen Willsea wrote an online letter titled, "How a white girl learned white supremacy in a liberal suburb of Rochester, New York."

"I wrote my letter as a love letter to white Rochesterians," Willsea said. "That was very purposeful because ending white supremacy is not black people's work to do, it's white people's work to do."

Willsea believes the Urban-Suburban Interdistrict Transfer Program, which aims to deconcentrate poverty and expand opportunities for students, influenced her thinking about race.

"The message I took in as a child was that as a white kid, I deserved to go to highly rated schools with more kids who looked like me," she wrote in her letter. "And conversely, that the city schools where most of the Black kids went were inferior schools not meant for kids who look like me. No one said it so plainly. But I got the sense that this arrangement was unfortunate, but somewhat to be expected, maybe even normal, and certainly not unjust or something we could or should do something about."

Click on the LISTEN link above to hear Willsea talk about how her attitudes about white privilege and racism evolved over the last two decades. Willsea now works as an antiracist facilitator and consultant.