Bremerton High junior notes differences between school, real world | Black History Month

BHS junior Denisha Atkins says she has noticed a difference in how diversity is accepted at BHS and outside the school walls. - Charles Melton/staff photo
BHS junior Denisha Atkins says she has noticed a difference in how diversity is accepted at BHS and outside the school walls.
— image credit: Charles Melton/staff photo

Bremerton High School (BHS) junior Denisha Atkins has dreams of being an actress and a model once she receives her diploma and transitions into the world outside the friendly confines of BHS.

As an African-American female, who moved to Bremerton as a young child from Chicago, Atkins has a slightly different perspective on diversity than her classmates who were born and raised in Kitsap County. It offers hope for the future of racial acceptance not only between blacks and whites, but Hispanics and Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans and all other cultures and ethnicities.

“I think Bremerton High School is color-blind,” she said, pointing to the way she and her classmates interact without any allusion made to each person’s ethnicity or racial background.

Yet a child when her family moved to Bremerton, Atkins said one of the first things she remembers is seeing the variety of skin colors such as Asians and Pacific Islanders and Native Americans that she didn’t experience in Chicago.

Throughout this month, BHS has celebrated Black History Month, but unlike her elementary school experience, which was more inclusive of the entire school, individual teachers have offered their own take on the significance of the month. However, the month has not gone unnoticed throughout the entire school, Atkins said.

The month comes on the heels of the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president, Barack Obama, who hails from Atkins’ hometown of Chicago.

“That was phenomenal,” she said. “Even though I’ve been on this Earth for a short amount of time, it still means a lot.”

While she and her peers are at least two generations removed from the often-bloody battles of the civil rights movement during the 1960s, Atkins said she has noticed a significant difference in attitudes toward different races outside of the accepting high school atmosphere.

“I feel comfortable here at Bremerton because there’s a lot of different races, but it’s good that we all come together,” she said. “Outside of school, it’s different, though.”

At the hair shop, where she buys her beauty products, Atkins said although the owner is friendly, there are times when she feels like she’s being shadowed while shopping.

There are other places outside of BHS where Atkins said, “All people see is color,” while she does her best not to notice or judge people by the color of their skin.

Atkins works part-time at a job where the majority of her co-workers are Asian and even though at first her co-workers weren’t exactly warm and friendly, now they have come to accept her as she is — an African-American woman.

In the neighborhood where she lives with her parents, her older brother and younger sister, Atkins said there are a few Hispanics and Asians, but the majority of the neighborhood is white. For the most part, there is little social interaction between the neighbors with only one exception.

“Our next-door neighbor, who is white, has gotten to know us because she stepped out,” Atkins said, noting the families keep a watchful eye out for each other’s property when they are on vacation and share in activities like barbecues during the summer months.

In her own family, Atkins said she has noticed a difference in how each of her siblings is treated by others outside their home.

Her brother, who is 24, has a hard time getting a job and keeping it because people see him as “this big black man,” when he’s one of the nicest, most gentle men a person could meet, she said.

Although Atkins herself has not been teased by others because of the color of her skin, her 13-year-old sister has borne the brunt of ridicule from some of her classmates, she said.

“I tell her, ‘You can make a difference and people are going to see beyond your color,’” she said, adding she does her best to encourage her sister, who is less outgoing than she is, to shrug off the unkind words and believe in her own abilities and self-worth.

On the relationship front, Atkins said that unlike Chicago, Kitsap County seems to be more accepting of biracial relationships.

“My brother’s girlfriend is white and her family loves him,” she said.

“Here people don’t seem to mind it as much.”

As Atkins looks to her own future, she said Beyonce Knowles and Tyra Banks are among her role models because of the ways they have overcome the barriers in their lives and become successful individuals.

“Tyra was told she couldn’t do it, but she was still able to make it,” Atkins said.

Although she envisions a future on stage or the runway, she said no matter where her future endeavors take her, she has one overreaching goal in mind.

“I want to use all my talents to make a difference,” Atkins said.

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