2016 Regions Riding Forward® Winning Essay by Ceilidh C.
Anyone who has ever watched The Hunger Games trilogy will be familiar with the subject of this essay. Amandla Stenberg played the role of Rue, who everyone fell in love with for her amazing acting skills. While she is a wonderful actress who went on to do work in other movies and TV shows, that is not the reason she is inspiring to me.

 As a young black female, I can look back on my childhood and think of many things that were central to my culture that I got made fun of for or looked down upon by people of other cultures. Whether it was my braids when I was little, my larger features as I went through puberty, or the heavy Caribbean accents my parents carry. All of these things were normal to me, but made me an outlier in society because they didn't fall into the standard of how things were.

 I grew used to knowing that some things just weren't for me. "Trendy" hairstyles, makeup looks, and clothing fads all looked different on me, and I always felt that because I didn't fit into traditional beauty standards of Americans, I was not beautiful. After a while, I noticed that non-black celebrities were able to use my cultural norms, and introduce them to American society as new and interesting styles and they were widely accepted. This is still a frustrating issue today because seeing celebrities like Kylie Jenner cornrow their hair and get praise for it reminds me of being made fun of for wearing my hair the same way when I was younger. Amandla Stenberg is one of the youngest black celebrities to become a social activist and speak out on issues such as these that normally get overlooked. She made a presentation titled "Don't Cash Crop my Cornrows" which went viral and made many people aware that cultural appropriation exists and is wrong. It may seem simple, but having someone with a louder voice saying the things I agree with gave me a voice of my own. She started a nationwide conversation that led to many people getting a better understanding. Because she made it a point to talk about cultural appropriation, I was able to have these conversations in my everyday life with people.

 Whether it was other black people, or explaining the issue to non-black people who were confusing it with cultural appreciation, seeing the ways Amandla has used her voice made it easier for me to use mine. She has a blog on Tumblr, a website that I and millions of others use frequently, and she regularly posts her opinions and presentations that she does, and she spreads information on a platform that allows more people to come into contact with it. I genuinely believe that if she didn't spend time talking about these issues, many people would not be aware that it even was an issue. Many young black females would not feel the solidarity and support that her words give.

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