By Nyesha Stone
Graduation means a time for celebration and the class of 2018 views on the concept are no different. People all around the world are graduating and some are choosing to continue their education while others are choosing to enter the work force.
No matter what this year’s graduating class will do, they have at least one great accomplishment under their belt, and that’s completing some level of schooling.
From kindergarten to college, Milwaukeeans, (even if they’re not in Milwaukee) are enjoying the celebratory festivities.
An artist, track star, straight-A student and the first and only Black valedictorian at Pius High School, Xavier Lightfoot is the Black male image that’s missing from the media.
Lightfoot didn’t expect it nor was he aiming for the title of valedictorian, but he takes it with great pride. He’s opening doors and leading the way for other students of color because now that there’s been one Black valedictorian, there can be a million more. And, it all started with Lightfoot.
“I sure didn’t think I would be getting that award [because] a lot of Black people are told they can’t achieve higher things,” said Lightfoot. “[But,] it makes me feel good that I can be an example for people.”
In addition to his academic prowess, there’s more to Lightfoot than what meets the eye.
Only 161 students in the country have been selected as a U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts. This is the highest honor for high school students who show academic excellence in the arts and it’s one that’s been given to Lightfoot.
Lightfoot works with mediums such as paint, sculpture, photography and pretty much anything he can get his hands on.
As a Black man in America, Lightfoot is using his art to show what it means to be just that: A Black man in America.
“I want to start a dialogue about topics that make people uncomfortable,” he said.
Now that he’s done with high school, he’ll be attending Maryland Institute College of Art to continue his passion for art. Lightfoot received a full-ride plus an extra $5,000 to attend the school.
Art helped Lightfoot cope with his depression. While in therapy he would start with 24×18 canvas drawing one continuous line until it filled up the entire page.
“It would be [a] meditation to me,” he said. “[And,] I’m okay with making mistakes because I can always go back over it.”
Eventually, he wants his art to be all over the world and available for everyone to view because art should be accessible, said Lightfoot.
“People look down on the arts and see it as a hobby,” said Lightfoot. “If you keep pushing, you can go places and get anything you want.”
Attending Howard University was a major change Billie Carter-Rankin had to adjust to. Coming from Milwaukee where every part of the city is segregated to D.C., where everyone is everywhere, was sort of a culture shock to her.
“It was like turbulence because everything was so different,said Carter-Rankin.” “I was pushed out of my comfort zone.”
She didn’t know where she would fit in this new life of hers or what she wanted to do, but after finding her way she also found her passion which inspired her major choice.
Carter-Raknin received her bachelor’s degree in Television and Film with a minor in photography, and she plans to attain her master’s at School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
“I feel like in undergrad I learned what I wanted to do, but not how to do it,” she said.
But, moving miles away helped her take risks. After attending a study abroad fair, Carter-Rankin felt the urge to travel abroad her junior year.
After months of fundraising, being given a decent amount of money from her mother’s friend and thanks to her internship with the NAACP Hollywood Bureau, she was able to study abroad in London. While in London, she made the work that got her accepted into her master’s program.
In London, natural hair isn’t popular and is usually censored out, so she used her photography skills to make a statement.
According to her site, she created “a six image photo series entitled blurred which emphasizes how natural hair is “blurred” or edited in order to be acceptable within mainstream culture.”
Just like when she first arrived in D.C., when she got to London she felt like a fish out of water.
“I felt so out of place,” she said. “Everything was so rich, and I wasn’t.”
Yet, despite her uncomfortableness, it didn’t stop her from improving her skills in filming. Since she was away from home, she had an abundance of free time which she used to take pictures.
When she wasn’t attending class at the University of Richmond or building a relationship with her professor who has art all over the world, she was honing her skills.
“When I was over there I was literally just me,” said Carter-Rankin.
Now, she’s back in Milwaukee taking time to reflect on her last four years and everything’s she’s experienced. She thanks God for all of her successes.
“If you have God on your side then you can do anything,” she said. “You just have to listen to him and get in alignment.”
To see Cartin-Rankin’s Blurred series visit https://www.billiecarterrankin.com/analog