By Vann Harris

“I would fight for my life so long as my strength lasted, and if the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.”

—Harriet Tubman

We have been the ones to take Ms. Tubman this time, and we’ve decided to put her on the $20 bill. The heated debate surrounding the decision has everyone with a keyboard abuzz. Some are opposed, and others are hashtagging Harriet til they can’t type anymore. A neutral argument that has been popping up is Harriet wouldn’t want to be on the bill in the first place. No matter which of these arguments you agree with, it all boils down to the same questions: Why now? Why is it important? And what impact could it have on our future society?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you understand that black people in America have been trying to rise in the ranks for a long time. It’s important because even though this is the same country that made circumstances for slaves so dire that Tubman had to found the Underground Railroad, it’s also the country her descendants still live in. And they need recognition. It’s important because it means a black woman, who changed history and fought against the institution that enslaved her, is finally getting her due. It also means, because of the era of history Tubman is apart of, that the white people that sweep black issues under the rug will be staring those issues in the face.

This doesn’t mean that race relations will get better, and that there will be any major changes to the black community anytime soon. But it is a start. It causes people to recognize a black person for their achievements. It provokes thoughts and conversations about race. It’s likely the most defining historical moment we’ve had since the election of Obama. It gives us positivity in a time of hardship. And it’s something white people can’t take from us. At least not right now.

Black people have been struggling for years, and with the cost of living and other things raising constantly, it is those in poverty who struggle. And black people, unfortunately, have not escaped poverty. In 2014, 26.2 percent of African Americans were below the poverty line, and that number is on the rise. Harriet being on the $20 bill is putting a black face on something black hands can only hope to touch in some instances. But historically, this is not uncommon. Blacks helped build this country, and ever since have been killed, discriminated against in, and have been denied basic rights in the same land.

Look, putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill won’t bring back Sandra Bland, or make black people richer, or make people treat us any differently.  But it puts our face on something white people will look at everyday, until they realize we are just as human as they are.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

—Harriet Tubman, Freedom Fighter and first Black woman on the $20 bill


About the Author:

Vann (formerly Hevannli) Harris is finishing her senior year of high school in Illinois. She is a leader in the Oak Park/River Forest H.S. Spoken Word Club and is a two-time member of its Louder Than a Bomb slam team. She was recently a featured performer at the CHI-ARTS Teen Lit Fest, was a silver medalist in the national Scholastic Arts competition, and won a national high school poetry competition. She has participated in workshops with A Van Jordan and National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist Adrian Matejka.
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