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Sharing and Celebrating Black History Month
By: Markal K., YES Abroad 18-19, Bulgaria
It would be another six hours of breathtaking mountain views and lush terrain until I reached my destination of Dobrich, Bulgaria. Travelling from Sofia, I was on my way to an English Language high school 10 hours away, to deliver a presentation to high school students in commemoration of Black History Month. I had reviewed my slides several times to ensure that I would be delivering information that was both accurate and enlightening— to an audience whose knowledge of famous Americans of African ancestry began with Martin Luther King and ended with Barack Obama.
I arrived at the school to a warm welcome by the school’s principal, students, and staff and was promptly given a grand tour of the school. Students performed traditional Bulgarian songs and presented me with their traditional bread served with salt, to symbolize goodwill, hospitality, and wisdom. And then there was a wonderful moment—the school’s director pulled me aside. She wanted to let me know that she could only imagine what being a black person in Bulgaria was like, but she wanted to remind me that there were still kind and friendly Bulgarians and I should know I was in a safe space where I was supported and my being there was appreciated.
Reflecting on my experience thus far in Bulgaria, the warm welcome I received at the school contrasted sharply with the treatment I have been subjected to since my arrival six months ago. I was initially living in the village of Lozen, a suburb of the capital city of Sofia. On my way home from my first day of school, a group of young men hurled racial slurs at me from a moving car. That would be only the beginning of what would be an onslaught of rude comments, nasty looks, and challenging experiences. After the initial incident, I moved to another host family closer into the city center, but even in a cosmopolitan setting like Sofia there is little racial diversity to be found among its inhabitants. Guards follow me in shopping malls, servers have shooed me out of cafes, and it seems that all the negative stereotypes of black males are projected onto me daily. I have felt consistently judged solely based on my skin, and not my character.
My Black History presentation focused on establishing a timeline of the African-American presence in the United States. It highlighted the achievements of notable black people from slavery until the present. During the presentation, the students were very respectful and engaged. After the presentation, there was a “Q&A” session where many good questions were posed; one of them in particular compared the treatment of the Roma—a minority population in Bulgaria—to the treatment of African-Americans and led to a great discussion. It was wonderful how the students were able to make connections between these two drastically different societies. In the end, we discussed how we, as teenagers, could play a more meaningful role in changing our societies to ensure the better treatment of all people.
This year celebrating Black History Month in Bulgaria was a special experience for me. Through my presentation, I was able to provide information on my cultural history, past and present, to a receptive audience. I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to bond with my Bulgarian peers and to have shared more information and insight into the lives and history of African-Americans.