June’s Black Lives Matter march in Oviedo was an emotional and uplifting event. Meet the local grad who helped make it happen.
Photos courtesy of KVoorhees Photography
Tania Sims stood in front of the Oviedo Police Department and watched hundreds of mostly white marchers make their way down Alexandria Boulevard as part of a Black Lives Matter (BLM) event on June 13... and she started to cry. The tears were unplanned and unexpected, but as one of the event’s coordinators, Tania couldn’t help herself.
Holding signs and chanting as they made the half-mile trek from Oviedo on the Park, the 700-to-800 marchers reminded Tania of how far many area residents have come since she was a little girl growing up in Oviedo, where her family moved when she was around seven years old.
“It didn’t hit me until we reached the police department,” says Tania, 21, a University of Central Florida journalism student who graduated from Hagerty High School in 2017. “It made me wish that I had the same kind of support when I was feeling bad about my skin; I wished I had that support when people were making fun of my hair. I wished they stood up for me then like they’re standing up for me now. It was just so overwhelming, and it made me feel good... like, this is a good start.”
Tania was in the second grade at Partin Elementary School when she first experienced what she now realizes was racism. Kids would tease her about her thick, natural hair and ask if they could touch it. At Lawton Chiles Middle School, Tania remembers someone saying when the lights were turned off they couldn’t see anything but her eyes, because her skin was so dark. Insensitive classmates also compared her to animals, like monkeys and apes.
“It hurt me, without a doubt,” Tania says. “But, at that point, you’re kind of used to it. A lot of non-black kids made jokes to kids who were darker. I’m not saying that every black person experienced that, but I 100-percent did experience that.”
Tania’s life – and outlook – changed during her sophomore year when she transferred to Seminole High School, where her father was the school’s behavioral specialist.
“It really was culture shock for me,” Tania says of Seminole High, the county’s most racially diverse high school. “Being at a diverse school, around more people who looked like me made me feel comfortable about my skin, my hair, my culture. That really was an awakening. When I came back to Hagerty for my junior year, I was a whole different person. I was in love with who I was, and I started speaking up for myself.”
Despite her renewed black pride, Tania didn’t feel a call to action until the recent events involving police brutality around the country. A fan of Oprah Winfrey’s talk show since she was eight years old, Tania always had the gift of gab and was vocal on social media and among friends.
“I was tired of just speaking about it,” Tania told longtime friend Kim Ariza, a UCF nursing student who also went to Lawton Chiles and Hagerty. “I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t just keep talking and posting. It wasn’t enough.”
Tania asked Kim if she would help her plan a Black Lives Matter event in Oviedo. Kim was on board, and shortly before the rally, Kim found out about another BLM event in Oviedo, which was scheduled for the week before theirs. She reached out to the organizers – local college students Paula Rodriguez, Leeann Figueroa, and Natalia Alvarez – and asked if they wanted to join forces and work on one event together. A group FaceTime meeting followed, and within a week, they had become close friends and comrades-in-arms.
The five young women agreed that peacefulness and education were their main goals. For Tania – who was joined at the event by parents Tangela and Colbert Sims III and sister Taniece – the goal was also to make sure her eight-year-old brother Colbert IV doesn’t have the same experiences she had growing up.
If the BLM event in Oviedo is any indication, the future is promising.
“To see all different types of people showing up for the Black Lives Matter movement in my town of Oviedo, which is predominately white, it meant so much to me, and I was emotional,” Tania says. “Honestly, it was incredible. I used to tell my mom, when I was in high school, that I can’t wait to get out of Oviedo. But now, after [this event], I can’t leave. I have to set it up for the next generation.”
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