A Rochester eighth-grader, Jada Williams, 13, recently transferred schools following an onslaught of harassment from her teachers and classmates, in response to an essay she wrote comparing modern education to slavery.

In her comparative analysis of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Williams supports her claim by drawing a parallel between Frederick Douglas’ experience of learning as a slave and her experience being taught by white educators.

She says, “packing 30-40 students into a crowded classroom, and having mostly white teachers give them packets and pamphlets to complete that they don’t fully comprehend, impedes the learning process; and that this produces results similar to those hoped for by a slave master that forbids his slaves from learning how to read at all.”


Williams ends her essay with a call-to-action, saying, ”[students need to] start making these white teachers accountable for instructing you,” and asking, “What merit is there if teachers have knowledge and are not willing to share because of the color of my skin?”

The Frederick Douglass Foundation contacted Williams and honored her with the Spirit of Freedom award, saying that her essay “actually demonstrates that she understood the autobiography. Good News reports on the story:

In a bold comparative analysis of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Jada Williams, a 13-year old eighth grader at School #3 in Rochester, New York, asserted that in her experience, today’s education system is a modern-day version of slavery. According to the Fredrick Douglass Foundation of New York, the schools’ teachers and administrators were so offended by Williams’ essay that they began a campaign of harassment—kicking her out of class and trying to suspend her—that ultimately forced her parents to withdraw her from the school.

In her essay, which was written for a contest, Williams reflected on what Douglass heard his slave master, Mr. Auld, telling his wife after catching her teaching Douglass how to read. “If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there will be no keeping him,” Auld says. “It will forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.”

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