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My Privileged Skin, the Life of Sy Stokes
By Kimberlee Buck, Contributing Writer
Published July 15, 2015
Recent UCLA graduate Sy Stokes

Recent UCLA graduate Sy Stokes

“When we were children, we learned how to mix colors with a paint brush
We learned that white mixed with anything makes it brighter
But we wouldn’t dare mix anything with brown or black or else our entire creation would be ruined.
“What we failed to realize… was that the untouched dark section of the paint brush palette became the symbol of the melanin in our skin.
“The painter only used us to write words that were dark enough to be noticed on a white background.
“So if words are all we are good for then don’t you dare tell us to silence our voices when we choose to speak.”

Would be the second stanza of a viral video by a 22-year-old and recent UCLA graduate that would spread across college campuses and Black Student Associations across the U.S. Not only would it motivate diversity moments lead by unheard minorities on campus but it would drive a conversation non people of color feel uncomfortable talking about, racism.

Sy Stokes is of African American, Chinese and Cherokee descent from the Bay Area. He and his older brother were raised by college educated parents. Not attending college was never an option for him.

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Stokes graduated a quarter early from UCLA and received his Bachelor’s degree in African American Studies.

During his childhood, he attended schools outside of his neighborhood and became accustomed to predominantly white schools. This scene would look all too familiar when he went to college to pursue his degree.

Since June, he has been working for the East Bay College Access Network which is a part of Marcus Foster Education Fund. There he supervises financial aid and college readiness programs for low income families strictly in the Oakland area.

“We seek out students that have a GPA below 2.5, but realized late that they still want to go to college. Instead of penalizing them for not knowing their pathway at an early age, we help them by rejuvenating that path and making sure they can still pursue college,” said Stokes.

All through college he participated in both football and basketball, Cultural Affairs Commission, Connecting Communities to UCLA (CCU), Black Male Institute, and was the director of the Word Division and created the first UCLA Slam Poetry Team (which went to national’s his junior year and finished top 8 in the nation).

When he wasn’t playing sports or performing poetry you could find him at Diego Rivera learning complex. An after school college matriculation program/ spoken word workshop, allowing students to express themselves and open up about their personal life in an artistic way.

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But the university provided more than the resources Stokes used to help give back to the community, a field to play sports on and lifetime friendships. Unfortunately, it also provided lack of diversity, with a hint of racism. Ultimately inspiring Stokes to make The Black Bruins video.

The video discusses the total enrollment, graduate and undergraduate for African American males at UCLA and the graduation rates for African American males on the campus. He also discussed the fact there is not a level playing field for students of color compared to other races on campus. The main theme of the poem is how he can be proud to call himself a Bruin due to all these things taking place on campus.

Who knew picking up a piece of paper at age 10 or reading a poem on the television show WEE Poets would lead Stokes to empower minorities on campus that were too afraid to stand up and speak up for themselves.

After the video was posted, Stokes received a lot of hate mail and along with few positive comments. If Stokes had the opportunity to do it all over again, he wouldn’t change a thing.

“I’m lucky to be the skin color that I am. In my eyes I am privileged. I’m lucky because I get to see it from the outside perspective, said Stokes. “I am the one that it isn’t directly hitting yet, it bothered me. That’s pretty much where this video came from. I couldn’t be alone in that video.”

Here is the advice Stokes has for future students of color:

  1. Be ready for the psychological part of college
  2. Be ready to be culture shocked
  3. Stand up for everything you think is wrong
  4. Stay focused and Educated
  5. Defy racial stereotypes

“[Standing up for ourselves] it is a part of our ancestral genetics and ancestral being. That urge to always make sure we are speaking up for ourselves because we always had to. We have that benefit but most people don’t know that, we have so much history to be proud of that isn’t even taught in history books,” said Stokes.

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