Black History Interview Series | Mariah Taylor

Mariah Taylor

Mariah Taylor is a senior studying anthropology with pre-med intent, minoring in biology, and earning certificates in African Studies and Health Disparities. She is a student leader on Wesley’s Diversity Outreach team and helped create a Black History Month Celebration playlist for the Wesley body.

Q: What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month is a way for me to get in touch with my culture. I’m always aware every morning that I am Black. But, going to a predominantly white institution, growing up in a predominantly white school – I didn’t always see my culture represented. It’s fun to focus on other people [beside the most prominent figures] who may not have been popular, but had a great impact.

Q: Is there anyone who you have learned about recently who has inspired you?
Yes! Alexa Canady was the first Black neurosurgeon. I’m interested in medicine and I love neurology. Something in her story that resonated with me was she talked about the stigma of being the token Black girl. And her mom told her, “Let them make you a token Black girl. Take that token and spend it.”

Sometimes that stigma makes me feel down and diminishes my self-esteem a little bit, but I want to see it more as an opportunity that God has given me to give Him glory.
 
Q: Where are spaces in your life in which you feel like the token Black girl?
In situations where I am the only Black person in the room. I walk in the room, and there’s an overwhelming feeling – that I know that I’m Black. It’s kind of an eerie feeling because there are some instances when I walk into an organization meeting and say, “Oh, I am the only Black girl here.” Or, when I’m in a group of friends and they say something like, “Mariah, we think this Black guy is cute. Is he actually cute?” Suggesting that I’m the sole source for that question…

Some questions are sincere and I’m fine with that. But some questions are asked out of blatant ignorance. It makes me feel like, “Oh if you have any ‘Black’ questions just come to the only Black girl in the room...”
 
But it also depends on my outlook. I could see it as something bad, or as an opportunity for me to share my story instead of having someone paint it for me.

Q: How can allies avoid/protect against the tokenization of our brothers and sisters of color?
It’s all about your intention. Regardless of what you say, people will understand your intention. 
At the end of the day, if your heart is right, it won’t be misunderstood. Some people may not receive it, and that’s ok too.
 
Q: Growing up, was Black History Month celebrated in your church? 
YES. I grew up in a predominantly Black church. I remember when I was 10 years old (I was extremely shy, extremely introverted) I got up in front of around 2,000 people and recited Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. We sang gospel songs and older songs. It was important. It was in the church bulletin. My mom worked as the administrative assistant to the pastor so I saw the behind-the-scenes. We had guest singers like Marvin Sapp… it was a big deal.

Q: So now, coming to UGA – how would you like to see Black History Month celebrated in predominantly white institutions, churches, etc.?
I would say go deeper (beyond recognizing MLK and Rosa Parks). For instance, UGA borrowed slaves from plantations. Some of these slaves built these buildings. They found slaves under Baldwin Hall. We need to acknowledge these things. And then there’s so much more we can talk about – peanut butter, hair products, the pacemaker – things that we didn’t know were invented by Black people… to show that we are here and we are advancing society.

Q: What are some ways you celebrate Black History Month?
We watch movies - both historical films and traditionally Black films. We sit down and watch them as a family. We play old school gospel music – James Cleveland, Mahalia Jackson, Andraé Crouch. My mom would make me do a history report – find something or someone new about Black history and present it to her.
 
Q: How do you think a white family could approach commemorating Black History Month? 
I would say just be open – first to understand. White and Black tension continues to be strained. And even with both sides coming from their best intentions, their actions are misconstrued, and I think that’s the work of the enemy. And we’re going to rebuke that.

I think that it’s more about being willing to understand. Have a willingness to understand and to be a part, a willingness to be curious. Ask questions. You can also do your own research too.  It means a lot to me when someone says, “Oh I know that song, or artist, or movie…”

Q: What does worship mean to you?
Worship is the way I feel like I connect to God most. I run to worship when I’m happy, I run to worship when I’m sad. Sometimes worship is my prayer. When I don’t have the words, I can put on a song and say, “Lord, this is what my heart is saying to you.” The best feeling is when I’m singing and I feel like the Holy Spirit just takes over. Worship is my way to talk to my best friend. It is my way to commune with my Father, my window to heaven.

Q: You helped create a Black History Month Celebration playlist for Wesley. What is your hope for the Wesley body in creating this playlist?
I want people to understand – this is how we grew up. This is my culture. Even though worship shouldn’t be a Black or White thing, sadly, because of this world – it is. These are the songs of our ancestors. I included songs from the 1960s, songs from Mahalia Jackson, who Martin Luther King, Jr. used to call at the midnight hour. She used to sing hymns for him before he went to marches. Even though they’re singing to the Lord, you can hear the pain and the anguish. You can hear the need to overcome. A lot of traditional African American songs are going to be that – I’m tired, I’m weak. I hope that when people listen to the playlist that they will not only just like the songs, but that they can hear the pain that still underlies our music. You can hear the strength that still drives us forward.

Q: What is your picture of heavenly worship?
I see people singing in their own voices. They are singing in their own languages, but they are all coming together and to God it’s one voice, one sound. It’s a sweet sound to God.

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