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Teenager Opens Up To Her Dad About Her Experiences With Racism

Calvin Burns, 35, and his daughter Stepheni Bellamy, 15, talk about their experiences with racism during a StoryCorps interview in Denver.
Courtesy of the Burns Family
Calvin Burns, 35, and his daughter Stepheni Bellamy, 15, talk about their experiences with racism during a StoryCorps interview in Denver.

Editor's Note: This story contains a quote where a racial slur is used.

Calvin Burns has trouble getting his 15-year-old daughter, Stepheni Bellamy, to talk to him. It's something many parents of teenagers can relate to.

He hoped that doing a StoryCorps interview — and sharing stories from his own teenage years — might help her open up.

Burns tells her when he was growing up, he was usually the only black kid in school and often felt left out.

"It was really tough, but I think it made me stronger being the outsider," he says.

Bellamy says she can relate. "Going to high school, there's not people just like me," she says. "There's mostly white people."

It's not easy, she says. "Sometimes it's kind of hard because like in history, when we're talking about slavery or something, a whole bunch of people will turn and look at me," she says. "It makes me like say, 'Yeah, I know, I'm black.' "

Bellamy asks her dad if he's ever been called the N-word. He recalls one time when he was about 12, he was hanging out with friends when "some guys in a truck drove close to us and I could remember the guy saying, 'Whoop, there it is, niggers.' And the guys almost ran us over, and we were pretty upset."

Bellamy says she has also been called the N-word, and that other people have said things like "Go back to Africa." All of this is a surprise to Burns.

"I didn't know that kids like that existed at your school," he says. "Phoni, I want you to know that you're not what they've been told you're like. It's just, it's kind of heartaching to think about the stuff that I went through, and you're still going through those same things."

Burns says he wants his daughter to know she doesn't have to go through incidents like this alone.

"I'm always there for you to talk to me about them," he says.

Bellamy says she doesn't like talking about herself or the things she's going through. But she admits that not much will change if she continues to keep these things to herself.

Burns says he knows the conversation got his daughter out of her comfort zone.

"I think that you've done more talking today than you have in the last 12 months," he says. "I hope we can have more conversations like this in the future. I love you."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by John White.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at

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Wynne Davis is a digital reporter and producer for NPR's All Things Considered.
John White