When Karrington Kenney, a 16-year-old junior and vice president of the Black Student Union (BSU) at Milpitas High School (MHS), posted a friend’s recording of history teacher David Carter’s Halloween costume, it wasn’t to score any humor points on the internet.
For she — along with many of her peers — didn’t find any of it funny.
Carter, a history teacher, wore blackface on the job last year as part of his Halloween costume of rapper-activist Common. Kenney posted the video on Twitter, which was viewed by thousands, including Common himself.
The incident launched a public outcry and accusations of racism, a schoolwide discussion on the history of blackface, and several public apologies from Carter.
“How can an adult not know better than to not do something like this?” Kenney asked.
Kenney has never shied away from speaking up. It’s hard to miss the student, as she’s often taller than many of the adults standing near her.
This weekend, however, adults will be looking up to Kenney in a different way: She’s part of a handful of women speakers — and by far the youngest — who will speak at Saturday’s Women’s March in San Jose.
“I’m honored,” said Kenney. “I’m excited for the experience with a lot of powerful women marching for empowerment. It’ll definitely be something amazing.”
Kenney said she plans to speak about her experience both empowering and being empowered by women. She’s looking to encourage people to speak up whenever they see injustice.
“I’m for justice, for everyone, no matter who it’s for. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong,” she said. “I’ll be the first person to speak up if you say something rude to someone or if I see something that’s genuinely not right, and I think there should be more of that.”
Kenney was present at a Women’s March sign-making event sponsored by Milpitas Councilmember Karina Dominguez, who herself spoke at the 2019 Women’s March. The two met earlier in the day, where the councilwoman said Kenney was one of her “she-heroes,” and commended Kenney on her “boldness” and bravery.
“What an amazing thing to have one of our own be part of a march, and Karrington is going to be on a stage in front of over 20,000 people,” praised Dominguez. “We’re all so proud of her.”
As for Kenney, she says she’s encouraged by what she’s seen in the student body since she first spoke out against Carter’s behavior. She continues to be an active BSU member, and often coordinates and choreographs performances for the club — all the while encouraging her peers. Kenney says she’s noticed some students being “more careful” with their words since the October incident — even if their favorite rapper uses them.
It’s something she attributes to her willingness to speak out, and she encourages others to do the same.
“Speak your truth even if it’s not the same as what the other person is thinking,” Kenney said. “Your opinion counts.”
And it might change enough opinions to give you a platform of 20,000 people.
Said Kenney, “I’m open to seeing the changes in people.”
The South Bay’s edition of the 2020 Women’s March will take place on Saturday at 11am. The march’s route will begin at San Jose City Hall and will end with a rally at Arena Green. Kenney is slated to speak at the event.