Adriana Bohm was just ten-years-old when her family moved from a sleepy Amherst, Massachusetts, to a divided Wilmington, Delaware, in 1980.
Long at the center of the struggle for racial justice, Wilmington was still reeling from riots sparked by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.; a prolonged, contentious battle for school desegregation and bussing; and the recent murder of a Wilmington girl who looked an awful lot like young Adriana.
Sheila Ferrell, a 12-year-old African American, was killed just a few years prior by her white neighbor who said she was stealing a peach.
“Be careful,” parents, friends and family warned Adriana thereafter. “You remember what happened to Sheila.”
Now a Delaware Community College Sociology Professor, Highlands resident, and mother of two, Dr. Adriana Leela Bohm, turns that memory into action every day.
Dr. Bohm is one of our community’s leading voices on social injustice. She holds three degrees, is the Equity & Inclusion Office for the Delaware ACLU, and the only woman of color to serve on the Red Clay Consolidated District School Board.
Despite the intervening decades of ongoing race-related tumult, violence, disenfranchisement and double-standard — from Rodney King to George Floyd, Charlottesville to Ferguson — Dr. Bohm is energized by the optimism of young people.
“Last summer, you saw students [rallying] all across the country,” Dr. Bohm said recently on Highlands Live. “In Delaware, they were creating blogs about social injustice, racism, transphobia and sexism in their schools. And if you look at the rates of students applying for colleges, the numbers are off the charts!”
“They’re making it happen,” Dr. Bohm continued. “And I say, let’s join them! Let’s get in the streets. Let’s advocate. Let’s teach them about public policy and the law and give them the tools to do this really terrific work.”
Dr. Bohm provides those tools via a curriculum that introduces civil resistance and revolutionary theory, and emphasizes students’ own power to come together, organize and create change themselves.
“So students don’t just have one narrative to say, ‘Oh, my people only acted this way.’ But to say, ‘My people are one of many. And they acted in all these different ways.’ And that gives them hope.”
Dr. Bohm holds the same hope for her Highlands neighborhood. She encouraged residents to join public comment on Delaware House Bill 198, a student-designed bill that proposes to integrate Black American Studies into the K-12 curriculum statewide.
Dr. Bohm also called on neighbors to advocate for the renaming of Highlands Elementary in honor of beloved former Red Clay superintendent, educational activist and civil rights leader, Dr. Joseph E. Johnson, Jr., who died last year.
“This is a learning journey for all of us,” Dr. Bohm said. “Let’s not just call people out and make people feel bad. Let’s call them in.”
“I think that just works as a strategy, not just in the classroom, but wherever you go.”
“Because we want to have more fulfilling lives for all of our people,” Dr. Bohm concluded. “That’s what I hope in my heart that we want for everyone.”