The Freedom to Express My Black Voice

Bella Montgomery, DSHA ’19, received the Outstanding Senior in English award. Over her four years as a Dasher, she has evolved as a communicator, developing a voice ready for the world. Here is her story in her own words.
A younger, quieter, and more fearful version of myself entered the doors of DSHA as a blank canvas, unaware of the bright colors and bold strokes to come. Native to Milwaukee’s Northside and a graduate of Golda Meir, a diverse school for the gifted and talented, I knew of culture at a young age. My knowledge of cultures expanded as I gradually learned its value and importance as a DSHA student. Because of the countless opportunities available, I rekindled a passion I lost; developed a new interest in a subject previously unfamiliar; and discovered the career I’m currently pursuing. While I couldn’t have imagined the outcomes of the two paths that became vital to my being, DSHA’s English and Social Studies departments heavily contributed to the confident and capable young woman I am. Today, I am a woman of faith, heart, and intellect; I am an empowered and fearless communicator.

A deeper purpose

Freshman year, if I had been told I would be the 2019 Outstanding Senior in English, I would have laughed. I dreaded my English classes. I remember spending nearly three hours on an assignment to rewrite sentences using proper grammar, purposely using fancy words. Throughout freshman year, I spent hours with a National Honors Society tutor correcting paper structures and grammar mistakes. After much effort nonetheless, I finished College Preparatory English I with a C, the lowest grade I have ever received to date.

Although English classes became a bit easier, I had formed no real interest until my senior year when I took The Writing Course taught by former DSHA English Faculty Shannon Dey, which drastically differs from any other English class at DSHA. While other courses focus on annotating text and writing analytical essays, this course is a creative writer’s playground. It is freedom.

Inspired by the books I read outside of class, where the main characters and I look alike and share relatable intricacies of the Black Experience, I found a deeper purpose than the grammatical barriers I was used to. Authors like Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Michelle Obama, and Dick Gregory “woke” me up (Merriam-Webster Dictionary now includes "woke" in reference to being aware of racism and social injustice). I wanted everyone to hear these stories and be knowledgeable of the social issues regarding Black and Brown Americans.

A voice develops in English

I wrote a persuasive academic essay entitled “BLACK LIVES MATTER” for the sole purpose of educating my classmates about the heavy but important topic of police brutality. I knew at least 5 girls would read it in my peer editing group, but 100 girls eventually read the essay when retired Theology Faculty Lorna Grade felt led to share it with all of her sections of Catholic Social Teaching.

Because of continuous encouragement from Mrs. Dey to publish, I submitted the essay under the title of “To Kill or Not to Kill: Black Burden, White America” in the 2019 Paula Friedman Excellence Writing Competition. I received an honorable mention. Throughout The Writing Course, I developed a voice and found the confidence to speak freely about issues I feel passionately about, opening doors to start much needed conversations.

I found the same voice and confidence in Speech class second semester. I discussed the misconceptions and discrimination of Black hair, as well as the lack of progress of race relations in America, comparing education, housing, and social aspects of life from the early 1950s to present day.

I can confidently say that I am the 2019 Outstanding Senior in English, making freshman “me” very proud and the future “me” prepared to tackle world issues with an untrembling and courageous voice.

A career in the making through social studies

While I was struggling with English freshman year, fortunately, I found an intellectually stimulating home in DSHA Social Studies Faculty Tom Montgomery’s Cultures and Civilizations class. I soon realized that this feeling remained whenever I studied in the Social Studies wing. U.S. History, Behavioral Science, and Focus: Africa didn’t feel like classes; they were fun.

U.S. Foreign Policy immediately grabbed my attention and third hour was the highlight of my day, thanks to DSHA Social Studies Faculty Chris Weiss’ passion for teaching and her deep knowledge of history. From assignments like analyzing and explaining the significance of Korean propaganda, to justifying the concept of irredentism and borders as a member of Putin’s cabinet — I found my career in those moments. A career where I can use the voice I developed at DSHA, and a career spending time appreciating cultures, just as I did as a young child.

When I turned 18 the next semester, I applied to a prestigious and highly selective internship within a federal bureau that focuses on the USA’s international relations. After many months of correspondence, writing samples, and tests, I was flown out for an interview. Unfortunately, I did not receive an offer. But I will apply again until my dream becomes reality. 

Putting communication skills into practice

I participated in co-curricular activities where I expressed myself in different forms, including dance, theatre, and foreign language. Debating India’s 1975 policies as part of Indira Gandhi’s cabinet in Model UN, coordinating awareness discussions as part of Sisters of Culture, singing classic French Christmas songs in French Club, and dancing at various sporting events with the Dasher Dance Team are few of the activities I enjoyed while a student at DSHA.

In the classroom, I translated my belief of the importance of communicating in another language. I’m a recipient of both the Grand Concours and Grand Concours Oral awards, national French contests that evaluate reading and speaking skills.

In the spring of 2019, I participated in the France foreign exchange trip, the ultimate language test. Mr. Camus, my host dad, didn’t speak English. To my surprise we were able to have comfortable dialogue, only needing Google translate three times within the week I spent in their home. Emie, my host student, and her friends introduced me to unknown aspects of the language, culture, and cuisine — experiences that books cannot teach.

Reflecting on my four years at DSHA, I see that I was a communicator in the making.

Loud and proud

In Fall of 2019, I began my studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, majoring in Political Science with a concentration in Global Politics and Policy and a double minor in French and African American studies. After a successful career in international relations, I will return to DSHA to teach courses in the fields I studied. My canvas is now filled with many colors and different types of strokes that illustrate the journey I began four years ago. I’m no longer quiet or fearful, I’m loud and proud and ready to take on the world as Bella Montgomery, Communicator.

To my mother and family, thank you for your continuous support and teaching me that there are more possibilities beyond the sky. To Ryah, Miya, Nyah, and Blane, my friends from childhood and my best friends for a lifetime, thank you for everything — you are all the epitome of Black girl magic. To the entire social studies department and Mrs. Dey, thank you for truly shaping me into the young intellect I have become. DSHA, thank you.
Academic Department Outstanding Senior Awards
Bella Montgomery
Laura Kloser
Bella Puchner
Elizabeth Heffernan
Sam Urban
Laura Kloser
Bella Puchner
Kelley Schlise
Emma Brownlee
Grace Glaszcz
Alyssa Arnold
Nora Bauer
Bonnie Raechel Beres
Sonja Kuranz
Natalia Perez

DSHA Quality of a Graduate: She is a Communicator — She is a COMMUNICATOR who is articulate, perceptive, and empowered to make her voice heard. She is highly skilled at interpersonal communication, effectively sharing ideas through various means, with various audiences, using advanced technology as needed. She is an active listener who is self-reflective and engaged, and is a confident communicator who is unafraid to stand up and say what must be said.
    • Bella Montgomery, DSHA '19


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  • Donya Hooks
    I read every single solitary word! You are an engaging writer who paint a picture with narrative. "To be Young, Gifted and Black!" I am in awe. Peace and Blessings to you!
  • Sister Carol Thresher
    What an awesome sharing of growing into a communicator. Am so glad DSHA could be an important part of that growth. Good luck, girl!
  • Johnna Papin

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