Enlightenment, Identity, and the Hare Krishna.

It was 10 at night when I met the Hare Krishnas. It was raining, and I was in Washington Square with my then-girlfriend Livy, a talented artist and chronic worrier, when we were approached by a thin, monkish-looking man. He looked awfully frail and spoke with a lilting Boston drawl, like some kind of spiritualist Southie. Who knows, maybe New England is going through a spiritual resurgence; Puritans to Prabhupada. He was smiling, and the rest of his group, some feet away, dressed in ragged kurtas, barefoot, their quasi-topknots slicked down from the rain, were smiling too.

One of the men offered me a small drum, and I accepted. Livy prodded me in the shoulder, mouthing the words, “let’s leave, now,” but I just waved it off and told her to relax. I sat down, cross-legged, and the Bostoner started drumming, his head raised to the sky, chanting softly in a hushed voice. We played there, all of us, in the little drum circle in Washington Square. Some got really into it, shaking and rocking and singing mantras, while passersby, slightly fazed, kept a distance and took photos on their phones. I just tried to keep a steady beat.

Not to sound like some New Age loon, but there was a serious feeling there. It wasn’t one of the typical things you hear from those with religious experiences; I wasn’t really happy, and I didn’t feel whole or complete or less lonely or at one with God or anything. No, I was just content. I felt like I didn’t need anything else, like I could just live in that single moment forever and I’d be just fine with that. It was almost as if I’d been divorced from all emotion, but at the same time, I could see them, say hi, sit in the living room and eat hors-d'oeuvres and play Mahjong with them. The best way to describe it is this: normally, emotions are brandished fists, ready to knock your lights out, but there, in that moment, they felt like a welcome guest. And I liked it, being thrust into the present without any baggage of my own. By the time we finished, I was just about ready to get the Vedic tonsure myself, if Livy, who had been watching the whole exchange and felt bored, hadn’t pulled me away and back to my parents’ apartment.

When I was kid I ran away to the creek behind my house. It was a little wilderness, a minute district of the Hercynian, with small waterfalls and jagged rock outcrops, sunlight swimming through the canopy of leaves in one yellow sheet. I made camp atop a boulder, ate some strawberries from my lunchbox and drank a carton of chocolate milk. And then I sat there. For maybe an hour I sat there, alone, listening to the birdsong and water, the sunlight slowly drizzling through the leaves above me, the warm spring air gently tousling my hair like a doting mother. After that hour, I left for home; there are no power outlets in the forest, and I needed somewhere to plug in my nightlight.

I realized something about myself then: I can’t stay in one place. I need change. I didn’t know it then, but I need change for the same reason why I need faith, whether that faith is Jesus or Shiva or the NASDAQ or whatever: I’m aimless. For most people, that’s just a situational thing, like, “oh I lost my job, I don’t know what to with myself, blah blah blah.” For me, and I’m assuming many other people my age, it’s an integral, and unfortunate, part of our personalities.

Change is like an unwelcome visitor bringing a broken bike into your bedroom. It’s unneeded, unhelpful, and a little confusing. However, I need the bike. I don’t just accept it, or embrace it; I actively seek it out. The Hare Krishnas offered that - Bhakti’s bike, a tantric ten-speed; radical change. I didn’t care about enlightenment, I didn’t care about karma, I just wanted to be away from where I was.

We got back to the apartment. We saw my parents, Livy talked with them for a while, and I heard them laughing. I took a shower - a long one. I turned the water hot and sat on the floor of the bathtub, staring blank at the wall. You know that feeling, when you’re immediately out of serious danger? Like you just got out of a car crash, or narrowly avoided slipping into a crevasse? I felt that. Except, I wanted to go back into it. I wanted to climb into that crevasse. I wanted to stay there, to make my home in it.

Later that night I opened the window and climbed onto the fire escape. The paint on it was chipping away. It was wet from the rain. And then I sat. This time, longer than an hour. Cars drifted below me, their headlights a dizzying haze from above. The stars had called in sick and the sky was a murky black. I felt at peace, and, although briefly so, it felt special. But that’s only one kind of change. I never talked about the bad kind, the kind where you lose something important, where it takes you away from where you were and throws you into another crevasse - a small, dark, hopeless one.

I like to think I don’t have much experience with tragedy, or at least any tragedies of my own. No close family members have died, my family’s not starving, I’ve never broken any bones, etc. Still, everybody has something. I was hospitalized freshman year - nothing serious - and spent Thanksgiving in a psychiatric ward. My roommate was an awfully kind heroin addict, my caseworker was a former male model, it was all real surreal. When I got out, I had to cope with both my own issues, and everything I had learned from the people in the hospital, and that really does a number on you.

In, “The Things They Carried,” Timmy copes with Linda’s death through writing, in an attempt to resurrect her through the written word. I did the same. After my release from the hospital, I started writing music. It become an obsession - the following summer I made it a personal rule to write at least one song a day. I felt like I had no control without writing, like I was stagnant and dumb. Writing was an escape, for both me and Timmy. He could create a world where Linda lived; I could create one where I knew what I wanted. Writing was just another bend in the road of change, another turn in a twisting Autobahn of confusion.

My introduction to highschool

When I first came to SLA it was very different. The people were a lot different, the work load was crazy, the strange rules, having an internship that I can’t get paid for, and a bunch of other stuff. The teachers seem like they’re all about teaching rather than raising a family or trying to be friends with the students. I don’t personally like it because not all students want to even be in school let alone...  I came from School of the Future where teachers acted like real people. People you could tell were going through their own struggles. Here at SLA it seems like the teachers are always happy and jolly which doesn’t seem real to me. It's like the twilight zone and the teachers are cheerful zombies.  I feel like some of them are hiding how they really feel or who they really are to the point that their personality doesn’t seem possible. Like if someone close to them died but the very next day they’d be at school and would still make us write 3 papers and make 2 videos about some unnecessary topic. I feel like their partly emotionless in the sense that there's no slowdown in the work output and they just push on, forgetting it ever happened. For example recently my aunt died and my cousin was really close to her. My cousin is a school teacher. She took off from work for about a week and when she came back she wasn’t assigning a crazy amount of work because she knew she still had to grade all of it and she knew she didn’t feel like doing a lot when she got home.  The people on the baseball team seemed like they actually wanted to be there to win rather than just be there...

I walked into Ms. Martin's health class not knowing anyone and sat at the end of the table by myself. I had to switch chairs with the one to the left of me because the chair I sat in had a bad back piece.It bent back way to far almost to the point where you would fallout. There were health related posters on the walls but nothing crazy, it was everything that you would expect to be in a health class. A few about the body, a few about what you should eat, and a few of the play 60 posters about how much exercise you should get a day. No one had a reaction to me being the new kid. They didn’t talk to me or anything. But luckily no one spoke to me because I don’t like to start talking to people until I’ve known them for at least a week like a break-in period. I don’t want to make friends with people I barely know. I like to watch how people react to day to day situations because I hate people that blow up or make a huge deal about little things.

Before I came to SLA I had already started High School Three times before at different schools. The first time I started was at a homeschool program called Claritas. It was absolutely awful. My family and I found out about the homeschool from a kid named Jacob who was on my summer baseball team. I hated him, he was a dick and a bad sport. He always had to have his way or else he’d throw a weird tantrum and rant about how you were wrong and he was right. But at school he was same way. One day the whole school played a game of kickball at recess. Jacob decided to be the pitcher. The school went from K-12. So it was a little 4th graders turn to kick the ball. So she got up and kicked the ball right back to jacob. So since he just has to win every game he plays no matter if it takes the fun out of it for others, he decides to peg the kickball as hard as he could at the little girl. Luckily he missed and the ball got lodged in the bushes. But he was a dick of a kid. But everyone else that went there seemed to have something off about them. One girl said she had never seen the matrix because her parents wouldn't let her since it was rated R. But rated R movies are drastically different now than in the 90’s. All of them listened to their parents word for word. No one had there own personality. They never wanted to step out from under their parents to see what the world was like. Everyone had a 10pm bedtime and everyone went to bed at 10 pm. Everyone was a bunch of squares and it got to point where some days I didn’t talk to anyone at all. And on some of those days when my dad came to get me and ask about my day that would be the first time opening my mouth all day so it would almost be glued together.  So I Ieft when they went on christmas break.

The next day my dad looked up another homeschool online. My dad found out about this homeschool called connexus by doing some research online. It was a much better homeschool than claritas. It was a homeschool program that you could either do it by yourself on the computer or go to a center close to you and have teachers teach the material like a regular school. At first I was doing it by myself but a couple weeks pass and some things on the website started to confuse me, so I told my dad I needed to go to a center instead. So me and my dad looked up the closest one and found one downtown. I was happy there was one downtown because when I needed money I could just go to my parents jobs and get money from them. The next day me and dad went down to the center for our meeting and told the people what I needed help with and they told us they could help starting tomorrow. They also told us that there were two times I could come in which were eight to eleven and twelve to three. For obvious reasons I chose the twelve to three schedule. I hate waking up early. So after we had the meeting my dad went to work and I went back home. The next day I went to the center and got the help I needed and also did my classes. The people at this homeschool were a lot more relatable than the last. They weren’t extremely competitive or crazy they were just all really chill, laid back people. About six of them were on house arrest but they didn’t seem like they would do anything to be on house arrest. I found out about a program called fruity loops. It’s a music making program, I used it in between classes when I was bored. I probably made about fifty beats that semester. Then the summer hit and baseball started up which is how I got into my next school.

The next school I went to was school of the future. I found out about school of the future from one of the coaches of my summer team. He said he worked at a school similar to mine since both schools mainly used laptops. He said I would be a great addition to the baseball team. So I happily said yes to joining future. But future was a real school with a building, windows, a lot of students, fights, lunchroom, everything a regular school has. On my first day I walked in and a guy told me to go sit in the gym. I sat in the gym by myself listening to music then after about 20 minutes the principal stood in the middle and told which grades where they needed to go, where to get there schedule, and from there the teachers took over. My teacher's name was Mr. Uthman, he was an african guy. He bought us up to the class and we did a couple ice breakers to learn each other's names. After we finished our ice breakers the period was over and we went to our next class. In every class that day it was just ice breakers. The people at future were okay. There were some I liked more than others to say the least. The rest of the year was a good year. My dad helped start a fundraiser for the baseball team and we were able to afford a batting cage in the gym. We also went undefeated in the regular season but lost our first playoff game.


Unapologetically Latina

Dear SLA community,

… I need you to hear a few things

My first day of highschool was suppose to be one of my greatest memories, but it was the day that I realized my word would change. On my way to school I caught the el, a train that I was terrified to get on. It was the way to my new life. The el was this huge clunk  of metal with blue seats inside. We sat down and I sat next to the window. As I look out the window I can feel the anxiety bubbling inside of me. She hugs me and says it will be okay. She was someone I was comfortable with. I’ve known her for years, it was already like she was a part of the family. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine, it’s honestly a great school.” She was a junior at SLA, the best coincidence. On our way to school she was explaining to me the “unique” dynamics of my new school. I remember her telling me all about SLA and how I am going to love it. “It’s pretty diverse in a way but you will be that token spanish friend.” Those words stuck with me, I never thought that they would be so accurate. I was wrong.

As I walked into the building I watched her as she scanned in. The cafeteria was made of windows which I loved, I thought it was so cool. There was a hole in the ceiling which was strange but it didn’t seem to matter to me. The cafeteria was filled with people I did not know what to do.  I was so nervous, it was if I was a mouse in a world filled with giants. Everyone looked the same. Someone yelled out her name “Melissa, come here!”, she ran to her and hugged her. I scanned the building as I waited by Melissa as she hugged all of her friends. I am glad to see the same walls I saw from Summer Institute. I couldn’t help but look up at what, at the time, was missing part of the ceiling. I saw people poking their heads down and waving to people, that seemed so strange to me. Melissa finished saying hi to all of her friends and walked me to my advisor’s room. She gave me a hug and said “Have a good day, text me if anything.” As I walked in I sat next to Emily, a girl I remembered from Summer Institute from the previous week. I looked around the room and all I saw was white. There was some color in the room, but barely. I put on a brave face hoping no one sees my discomfort. We transitioned to our first class, and once again I saw a lot of white. I have never been so uncomfortable in a place that I am supposed to love. I see a girl I went to I knew. As I sat down and looked around I saw of white people sitting together and I knew we didn’t know each other yet, but I wondered as to why they all sat together. Fast forward three years and I am sitting in my history class and it has even come to a point where our history teacher said something. “It seems like all the white people sat together and all the black people sat together.” That’s crazy I thought, even our teacher notices it. Everyone laughs...

My life at SLA has been pretty great, better than most but I sometimes feel ostracized by just looking the way I look. I cannot deny the fact, even if I tried, that I am Latina. I look just like a typical Latina girl. I have caramel skin, brown eyes, brown hair, and I am short. I am filled in a school with giants. These giants vary in color, but all the same they are giants. I never see any caramel skin giants. I really miss seeing similar faces. I miss people being able to properly pronounce my name. My name is meant to flow off the tongue Elani Belen Gonzalez-Ortiz. It took me a long time to come to love my name and SLA has made me hate it. Whenever I tell someone my entire name they tell me that it is too long and they are going to call me something different. Then when I tell them, “No, you will call me by my name,” they look at me as if they are offended. I have come to accept the fact that people are just going to butcher my name. Also by coming to SLA, I have realized that I am that one token spanish friend. Melissa was right. Everyone came to me with questions asking if I could read over their spanish essays or if I can do their homework. Then once again, they get offended when I tell them no. Like I do not have my own things to worry about. SLA has honestly made me just want to forget the fact that I am a Latina. I have heard people butcher my language and not even wanting to fix it. They also like to point out the fact that they are giants like I already cannot tell, that I do not realize that I am not one of them.

I tried to be friends with the giants, and I was for a while until I met people with color. They weren’t caramel, but all still the same it was color. Don’t get me wrong, I am still friends with the giants, but the creatures with color understand me more. They sympathize with what I am going through, they try and try to say my name but it still isn’t the same. Everyday I wanted to come home just so I can be reminded how beautiful being Latino really is. That our caramel skin is beautiful and that my brown hair is not dirty but vibrant. That the curls and frizz in my hair is not nasty but lively. No one understands it though, the giants, the creatures, and not even home.

Home doesn’t understand what it is like to constantly be asked questions about your culture every single day, just so they can get a good grade not even for them to understand. My mom understands though, she is in the same world I am. These giants and creatures don’t seem to understand why questions suck. It sucks because it is as if I am an animal in the zoo, like if everyone wants to constantly take pictures with me. I wanted to be normal but I couldn’t with everyone always wondering about me.  Why being constantly pointed out because I am Latina is annoying. “Yes, I understand I look different but you can stop pointing it out thanks”, I thought all the time.

I miss my old life. Once you meet another Latino it is as if you are instant friends, you automatically have something to bond over. Latinos are a very tight nit community and I was pulled from that. I remember everyone always being able to say my name correctly and I never felt strange about my name either because all of our names were sort of similar in a sense. No one ever questioned me in my old life. I was just the average latino kid just like everyone else was. I never felt like an outsider in my old school. We all spoke spanish and all came from the same place, it was diverse in the sense that we had all kinds of latinos but nothing else.

Science Leadership Academy the best innovative school for the kids who don’t think like your average teenager. We are diverse! Everyone will love it. SLA is a non-Latino school. We are diverse, but not diverse enough.


A proud Latina

My move

I think I changed during the move to a new house. in my old house we looked and felt like rich people we had to kitchens a work out room tons of rugs and very big rooms but then we move not to far from my new house . when i saw what it looked like in compacted naverhood it looked like a very cheap house with the dying plaints  i started shacking below my legs when  that was also the same time I was moving to a hole new school which looked worse then the old one I was nervous because it was the first time in my life that I ever transferred to a new school in a city. I moved to a different city and went to a high school where I knew that I would struggle adjusting to the people around me and remembering their names.

Changing features, changing people...

I guess you can say I went through a phase during the early maturing stages of my life. Ideally I normally write about living in another country and not being able to identify where I grew up in because it was always somewhere different, yet at the same time I enjoyed the idea of being “different” because that’s what makes you standout from the norm right? However the thing that makes me different is the fact that different from everyone else with interesting lives I didn’t go through any hardships, or major drastic changes. And to add my parents always reminded me how perfect my life was and everything was basically laid out for me, which confused me because the words “perfect” and “fortunate” were the words used by parents so often that it really affects me the most. Anyways this perfect life style was actually the thing that caused the most mental damage to me because I was always messing up. Its funny cause this thought process is what my middle school teachers described as “suffering from metacognition”. However metacognition didn't just affect me in my classes, it was an ongoing thing in just bust everything I did.

The first time it came to light was in elementary school. I began my normally scheduled scan around the classroom. It was independent reading and everyone seemed so invested into their books for just fourth graders. I mean maybe I’m just slightly illiterate but even so there’s no way these kids are reading Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, those books probably weigh more than the kids themselves. Not to mention that I’m still struggling with the Magic treehouse….  The door opens… Everyone looks up from their books almost the same way a deer looks up when it knows it’s being hunted. It’s the school nurse,  I knew it was her just from the sound of the jingle from the lanard and the room keys because I practically live in her office due to a combination of being so clumsy and fragile. You would think that all my chubbiness would work as a protective shield from knee scrapes and bruises from gym class. Nope, Nurse Westbrook and I were with each other about four hours out of the school week. At one point it was so bad that as soon as I would enter her office she would already open the fridge with an ice pack ready without me even telling her what’s wrong. Even the office made jokes about it. Anyways, the nurse enter the room and my classmates stare as if it’s their first time meeting someone from the outside world. She smiles and strolls over towards my teacher who at the time was organizing the bookshelves. The nurse hands her a large pony folder, they chat for a moment, and uninterested as usual I continued in my struggle of reading the magic treehouse.  The two share a laugh like two moms watching their kids from a park bench. And just like that the nurse exits the room along with the interest the kids had in their books. Our teacher walks to the center of the room, folder in hand and brings the attention of the class towards her direction. She announces that we would all be called down to the office two by two in order for her to do check our height, eyesight and worse of all weight. I began to freak out finding looking for ways to get out of this activity. I knew it was not be any means supposed to show comparison of students but it truly felt that way.

I remember in 3rd grade going over my best friends Nick’s house everyday and playing split screen Online on Halo 3. It wasn't till Christmas of 2008 until I got my own Xbox 360, and became victim of the video game addiction. Unfortunately all of my memories on Xbox weren't positive. but although I stayed inside all day it was probably the fasted way I learned about the world. All I can say is that earth is full of extremely twisted people, and very reasonable people. And there's a very clear line between the two. It wasn't till I was 11 years old until I met my first "pro" gamer. He was 18 years old and his name was Michael, and at the time he seemed like the most intelligent and inspirational person in the world just because of his halo skill. He introduced me to the competitive world of eSports and basically taught me all my social skills in real life. From what I learned eSports is the exact same system as the MLS, NBA, NFL.... Just less physical work! Which invites way more people to compete. From that day I played with Michael just about every day of that summer of which I got my Xbox.

My friends were surprised that I still had social skills considering I haven't hHung out with them since I had my Xbox. It was really that bad. Especially once I found out that people considered me a good halo player... Life online was just so much better thant reality. It was like I was being worshipped by people older and younger than me. And I didn't even have to do anything except play the thing I was good at. A lot of people don't take things like that into consideration, when the first thing they think of when they picture a gamer, is some nerd or wimp that stays inside. Well, 50% of that may be true, but it’s not always in a negative directions. A lot of these gamers are very intelligent but just do not fully understand on how to apply their strengths to the real world. But becauses of this the “smart gamers” have more than enough time to structure their gaming hobby into a career making more money than any other regular job. To this day I don’t know how these gamers made it so far with what just appears like screaming at screen for hours. Until I realize how much work and sacrifice and dedication it takes to get that far with such an underestimated career, which for me could be considered “The dream job”.  

Day one Best Friend

It is the second day of 5th grade, I am sitting at a table in a large classroom where everybody is talking about their summer and trying to make some new friends. At our table in the back of the classroom, I am talking with a girl named Adrienne, a girl named Avery, and a boy named Tyson. Tyson and Adrienne are talking about how to say forty. “Its pronounced forty” says Tyson. “No its pronounced fordy” says Adrienne. “Its fordy” I say. “What do you know” says Tyson. “I know it's pronounced fordy” I said. “Ooooooooo” says Adrienne and Avery.

From that day forward, Tyson and I had become best friends. We even live close to each other in West Philadelphia. Tyson always has my back and I always have his as friends should be. Another scene is when it was my birthday and Tyson had came to my house. It was on March 4th on a friday night and Tyson had called me to confirm my address and ten minutes later he showed up at my house. “Happy Birthday” says Tyson and his mom, “Thank you”, as I said trying not to smile too hard. At my house in West Philly it was my aunts, uncles, Nana, Mother, Father, brother, cousins, baby cousins, step-father and of course me. Me, Tyson, my brother Mike, and all of my cousins were playing video games. In 6th grade me and Tyson were never in the same classes. Tyson had became my best friend by always looking out for me and I would always do the same for him. Me and Tyson had became friends by just talking to each other and hanging out outside of school. It was one time when Tyson came over my house and  my mom said “Hey my other child”.  At that moment it just felt like Tyson had belonged there.  Tyson and I are inseparable, this one time he had moved to Maryland but we still communicated. When he had came back to Philly he had told me tha this time he will stay.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             


Changes come and go, but you have to adapt. You have to adapt because if you don’t, then you wouldn’t be able to survive. Surviving is the goal in life, right? Living out the most of what your years can give you. Cynical thinking comes to mind whenever I think about the past. The past consists of bits and pieces of memories that are all woven together like a basket case. The basket case is sturdy, bound together by linked memories. Each time you would think of a lone memory suspended in the past, you would unravel another piece that’s connected to it. The most peculiar thing about memories to me are, the way that we remember scenes in our brains is the last time we thought about it. Memories could totally be fabricated based on how we last interpreted them. It’s quite a shock to know that memories could be false in a sense that we could change them based on how well we remember them. That’s the fickleness of the human mind, we can never really know the truth. Everything and everyone could be a figment of our imagination; something that we’ve all created during our days of distress.

I was comfortable with living in my five-story house with my brother. My parents were never home because they were always working overseas. I’ve accepted that as a fact; I didn’t really know them well. The only family I had left was technically my brother. We’ve had quite a lot of arguments during our days. He’s 8 years older than me. He was always out the house and left me to fend for myself. That really didn’t bother me; or so that’s what I told myself.

I was never put in social situations because together, my brother and I blended into the white noise of everyday life. We went to school, came home, asked how each other’s days went, then went our separate ways to sleep. This was the day to day cycle we went through. Every once in awhile, there would be calls from our parents.

“We’re in Orlando. It’s very bright and sunny here; just like there! We think about you two a lot.”

“Hello! We’re in Chicago. It’s cold; nothing like there, but we’re getting by. We miss you!”

The cycle went on. We eventually got tired of the late night calls, the same packages that contained instant pancake mix, foreign foods, and souvenirs wrapped in cellophane. They were never really things we needed. Our parents’ absence caused our lives to merge in together as static, not giving us any variety in what we experience. It wasn’t that we were tired up to the point where we wanted to do something different. It was just that... We never really knew how to do anything else. If we broke the cycle, we would get so fascinated and distracted by other things. We would get consumed by what we were missing out on. That’s exactly what happened to my brother.

There was a gurgling noise that could be heard around the room. I looked around to see what it could be, but everything in the room seemed intact; nothing had been moved. It was silent. As if everything were just waiting for the right time to finally speak or just do something. Just like me. It was 1:30 A.M. I’m waiting for my brother to get home. It’s a breezy summer night, I don’t really have any problems with staying home alone. That was the usual routine. But this time, he didn’t call. He didn’t even say in advance that he would come home late. All I remember was the soft breeze of the wind coming from the door, not even realizing it was opened. My brother came trudging in from who knows where. The stench of cigarettes and alcohol infiltrated the room. I stared at his figure for a long time. It was about five minutes, give or take. We didn’t exchange any words at all for those minutes. Time was slowly dripping like molten glass; I felt every breeze, smelled every scent, more strongly than I could possibly imagine. It was as though those sensations were etched into my being. I didn’t know what was happening, but the next thing I knew, my brother was kneeling before me, his arms wrapped around my shoulders. I felt water droplets on my arm.

This scene didn’t exactly happened like this. I’m just reiterating it as to how I thought I experienced it. As I was saying before, memories are just something we hold onto because we think they’re important. That’s the exact moment where I realized that I’m scared of change. Look at what it did to my brother. We became estranged from one another. We were the only family we had left. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to do. He knew that he abandoned me. We both did. But somehow, something inside me forgave him instantly. Because if I didn’t, then who else would? There was no one else in my life, no family but him. The shadows of our parents slowly lingered in the background. We didn’t pay attention to them because their physical absence reminded us of how we needed to stick together. I was only eight years old when the realization hit me. Change doesn’t necessarily have to have a good outcome; nor a bad one. You just have to change the mindset that you put yourself in.

From then on, I started to feel more comfortable knowing that a cycle isn’t bad. Change isn’t bad either. It’s just how you perceive it. But if I wanted to make an impact in my own life, I had to adapt to change, or change for the better. I realized that you never really leave an impact in the world unless you apply yourself. People disappear every day, and unless they’re someone famous, then they’re not going to be missed by the world. Maybe with celebrities, people might take one or two seconds to express their condolences to no one in particular, then move on with their lives. What I’m trying to get across here is that, people changing or disappearing won’t make the world stop. Time goes on, the Earth still spins. I know that now.

Living in an Islamic Country

Kawthar Hasan (Kay)

Ms. Larissa Pahomov

English 3

4 January 2017

A lot of Americans do not realize the amount of freedom we have in this country compared to other foreign places in the world. For instance, dressing the way we desire, hanging out with men and women in the public eye without being judged, or even having the choice of practicing another religion. In an islamic country, if a person were to disobey any of those rules, they will face either getting lashed in the public, face a lot of time in prison, and/or death. As Americans we need to understand and value the open opportunities we have in this country that others wished that they would acquire.

I remember the last time my family and I were arriving at our destination of my mother’s native country: Casablanca, Morocco. At that time I was at the age of six. There approximately about 32 million people living in Morocco. Although the capital city is Rabat, Casablanca is the largest and most popular city in Morocco with nearly 4 million residents. I can trace back to us getting off the plane and remembering some of the things in my surroundings. The men and women being dressed modestly, the Moroccan language my mom speaks which also others spoke around me, and inhaling the wind that is completely different from the United States air.  Once we walked to a huge baggage place at the airport too grab all of our belongings, my mom gave a suggestion to my dad, “Instead of trying to catch a taxi why don’t we try to call to my cousin, Ridwan” she told him. He  responded,  “Sure okay, why don’t you offer him a call by using that phone booth right over there?” my dad pointed. My mom grabbed some dirhams she had in her bag and walked over to the phone booth to call her cousin. My cousin Ridwan came to pick us up from the airport. I was looking out the window as we rode down Boulevard de Rachidi. I noticed the palm trees on both sides of the rode, like how you would see it in many Hollywood movies. From then on, I knew that I would have the best experience that I will never forget in Morocco.

There is about 99 percent of the muslim population in Morocco. Muslims all around the world pray five times a day to worship only one God, Allah. Each and everyday, no matter what city I traveled to while I was in Morocco; Marrakech, Tangier, Tetouan, or Salé a call to prayer, which we call the Adhan is always played five different times a day throughout the city. This is normal in the Arab/Muslim countries. Although, the United States the government offers people freedom of religion, they do not offer a prayer system to be called throughout the cities like in the Arab countries. Although we do not have adhans going off in the city, here in the United States we have many masjids to go to worship Allah.

Living in a religious country is different from living here in the United States. There are strict rules and regulations that citizens and even the people who tour in these religious countries must abide by. For instance, no woman is considered as an independent woman, both males and females are required to be dressed in a modest way, there is a ban on social mixing between men and women in the public eyes and sometimes in the private eyes unless they are family, and the list goes on. On the other hand, in the United States, we have freedom of speech, our rights to wear whatever we want, the ability to not be judged by others if they are interfering with men and vice versa. When I was six years old in my family home I realized some of these differences between the culture in Morocco and the U.S.  when a young lady and a man had begun to have sexual intercourse without being married. People within the community witnessed and had begun to spread the word, and it eventually spread to the ears of her father. A few days later, she was found being beaten in the middle of the street by her father.  At a young age during that time, I witnessed something so tragic that eventually swayed my opinion about the standards of human beings. I was trying to convince my family to stop the chaos, that I could not bring myself to watch anymore, yet they refused. As the minutes passed, we witnessed something so dreadful until my dad could not tolerate watching that uncontrolled violence in the street anymore. Therefore, he decided to run out of the house to save the young girl from her father beating her nearly to death. My dad somehow, someway found a way to talk the man out of abusing his daughter especially, in the street for people to watch and entertain. After that things settled down and for the rest of that day the entire neighborhood was quiet. Even at a young age I comprehended the reason why my dad saved that young woman. Although my dad understood the way the government and Islamic laws were set up as we were in Morocco, he refuse to watch a young adult being abused in the streets by her own blood. For the fact that he has me and my sister to raise, regardless of what minor or major mistake we would have to face in life. He has to show us how much he cares and love us no matter what.

If Americans stopped to think about it, they would realize that living in an Arab country is not just about speaking a different language, but it is truly about maintaining yourself abiding with the islamic and governmental laws as well. If a person were to live in the United States their entire life, then go to an Arab country, even if it is just for a vacation, they would honestly not accept a lot governmental requirements since they are not used to residing in a strict country. In America, we have many rights that are forbidden in many Arab countries such as; women going to work/school, dressing the way we desire, Marriage equality (especially Gay Marriage), etc. As Americans we should be thankful for the government to allow us to have open opportunities that others wished they had in their country.



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Motherly Love

No movement of the lips or eyebrows. I can always tell by the look on her face that my reaction isn’t enough. If I had said a nonchalant “Okay,” with wide eyes and a slight smile, she would’ve gotten the impression that I cared. Unbothered is the look I went for for. I couldn’t argue with her. There’s nothing to argue about. What are we arguing about? A basket of folded laundry that has been sitting in my room for about three days. The clothes will be put away eventually. I always do everything eventually. I feel that if she knows that I’m annoyed by her unannounced entrance into my room to talk about the laundry for the third time, she’ll feel that maybe my annoyance will get me to put it away to stop her from nagging. I didn’t put my clothes away and won’t until I feel like it.

I could tell this was the start of a week-long silent treatment. Day one: the argument. Usually something stupid occurs which causes her to yell at me. I give her the usual blank stare, which she doesn’t like. Day two is the start of the silence. We both make a mutual unspoken agreement that less interaction will occur between us. Day three is where my dad has to play monkey in the middle. He usually goes back and forth hearing one complain about the other. Day four: usually sitting at the table and being able to slice through the awkwardness with my butterknife. Day five would consist of the start of the comedown. Dad’s words would sink into minds and eventually settle the argument between us.

My mother and father are exact opposites of each other. My dad and I have always had a good relationship. My dad usually tries to see both sides of a situation, while my mom is strictly one-sided. We clashed when I didn’t agree with her and I tried to explain my point. My opinion was usually shut down by questions that favored her side. I would try to argue a point that was already deemed wrong, so I started to end every almost-arguement with “Okay.” My dad would always be stuck between us. He couldn’t side with me, and he didn’t want to side with my mom because he didn’t agree. At night, he would come in my room and talk it out with me. He would reveal what she was saying about me, and I would give my defense. At the end of our secret meetings, he would look me sternly in the eye and say, “But don’t tell your mom,” I knew I couldn’t say anything. We weren’t speaking to each other anyway.

All of this occurred when I was transforming into a outspoken overly-opinionated teenager. When I started to become my own person, I started to grow apart from my mom. If I differed with her on subjects, I let her know and she didn’t like that. Along with my opinions, I did the usual teenage defiant acts such as not cleaning my room, taking naps, and generally being lazy. I didn’t let it show that whatever she scolded me about affected me because of my ever growing teenage angst. Even though she’s my mother, I like to be able to stand my ground. I couldn’t let her walk all over me for something so small. I don’t overdo myself to where I am completely disrespectful, just enough to where I am annoyingly blunt. We are both extremely stubborn, which was the root of our problem. We are more alike than we’d like to admit.

It was warm and sunny outside on our drive to the bank. I was riding shotgun while she took the wheel of our hand me down Honda Accord. I was about twelve or thirteen years old. My preteen body was in full effect. Braces were plastered over my teeth and I was even skinnier than I am now. We were discussing our neighbors’ demon child. He was every parent's worst nightmare, so my mom was extra dramatic when she talked about him. I didn’t care enough to discuss him, but I didn’t make that fully known. Endlessly talking about someone isn’t going to change them. The topic has been discussed plenty of times before and I didn’t think we’d ever come to a happy ending. I don’t remember what words we exchanged, but all I remember is that after a few times of keeping my thoughts to myself, I decided to share my opinion. I didn’t speak in a hostile or sarcastic tone. It was only about a sentence. A moment of silence flooded into the car after I spoke. My chest tensed each second nearing her response.

Finally, she said, “Why are you such a little bitch to me, Maddy?”

There was no escape. I couldn’t jump out of the car. Home was too far by now. The neighborhood we were in wasn’t one that I would want to walk alone in. I just kept quiet. How is someone supposed to respond to that? I consider myself a great kid for not getting mad. I don’t really know why I stayed so calm. About a year or two ago, I confronted her about it. She denied it.

“I did not say that to you,” she laughed. I don’t know how she was so casual about something that was so significant to me.

“Yes, you did.” We both laughed about it, and I still laugh about it. I’ll never forget that though.

The October of my freshmen year in high school was the start of the end. My dad and I both knew it needed to stop. She treated me significantly different than my brother. I got a call from my dad when I was on my way home.

“I talked to your mom earlier. She said she’s going to start to be nicer. So, hopefully things will get better.”

At the time, I doubted it. Or at least I knew it would be hard for her. My dad and I both understood that after this long it would be extremely hard for her to retain her feelings. Life between us gradually changed. My mom loosened up and I noticed.

Now, my mom and I are like best friends. We’re constantly together. Like all mother and daughter relationships, yes, we do still have our differences. We’ve learned to let the small things go. I think our rough patch made us closer. It was a learning experience for both of us. We don’t discuss it now, but it still lies underneath the surface. I hope in the future we never find ourselves in that situation again.

Escaping the White Privilaged Bubble

I am twelve years old and had just began seventh grade at the prestigious all girls private school, Baldwin, located on Philadelphia’s main line. It is currently ‘bat mitzvah season’ for the many Jewish girls whom I go to school with. This night is not only hugely exciting for the birthday girl, but also for her guests. It is one of the few, but extremely exciting, days where we are able to mingle with the boys from the all-boy’s school down the road from ours, Haverford. I would strategically head to a friend’s house hours before the party starts, where we spend every second available to us to get ready. At approximately six o’clock we eventually pull up to an elaborate hall or hotel decorated just for the birthday girl. Upon walking inside, I was either greeted by an ice sculpture of the birthday girl’s head or a photographer ushering me in and then quickly snapping a photo of me and my friends. I enjoy myself so much at these parties that I eventually go home and ask my mother if I can have one just like theirs for my upcoming thirteenth birthday. She is then forced to break the news to me that not only are we not jewish, but that I am not like the girls I go to school with; that we don’t have all that they have and that that’s okay.

Although my seventh grade self was upset that she couldn’t have an elaborate thirteenth birthday, over the next three years of attending that school I had come to the realization that these bat mitzvahs were just one small factor that set me apart from my peers. I had begun to feel like I was living in a white privileged bubble while going to Baldwin, and I did not belong there. I come from a very liberal family and I soon found out that my parents were struggling with the feeling that the school I was attending was slowly taking away many of the morals and principles that they had worked hard to raised me with; the fear that being in an environment with such a lack of diversity would unintentionally cause me to be unaccepting of those that are different than me. My family feared of what would happen if I continued schooling at Baldwin, graduated, and was suddenly launched into the real world without understanding what the real world truly is, as I had only been exposed to such a small part of it.

It wasn’t until nearly the end of my freshman year of high school that I finally came to terms with this and sat down with my mother to discuss the possibility of switching schools. The conversation went something like this:

Hadleigh: Mom, I think I would like to leave Baldwin.

Mom: Finally! Where would you like to go? 

Hadleigh: I have no idea.

The end of the school year was nearing and I knew that my options were slim, and for this reason, the idea got pushed to the side for a while. The next time it was brought up, my mother mentioned the school, Science Leadership Academy, that she passes sometimes on her way to work. I had heard of it and knew that one of my best friends who was a grade below me was applying. It is located in the city where I grew up, the student body is far more diverse than Baldwin, and it overall seemed that it would be a more comfortable environment for me. I made the quick decision to apply as well.

Luckily, the last set of interviews happened to be the following week. I was told to find one recent project that I was most proud of to present, as SLA is a project based school, to one current student and one teacher. I had only done one project that year at Baldwin and it was a group project that I wouldn’t have necessarily defined as one I am “most proud of.” I then decided to take it upon myself to change the project around a bit and create an improved, more personal version of the original project. I was the only person there that was already in high school and many people looked at me strangely. However, my interview went well and I felt confident.

I did not find out that I had been accepted to SLA until my last week of school at Baldwin. I was on a serious time crunch as there were deadlines on both ends that had to be met. My mental state at this time could be described as jumbled and disorganized. I had no idea what I wanted to do. Leaving Baldwin after 5 years was only just a thought until I got the news that SLA had wanted me to attend. I weighed the pros and cons:

Pros: more suitable environment, will be better prepared for the real world, fresh start

Cons: leaving everything I know and starting new, friends, amazing education

After a few days of frantically searching within myself to come to a decision, I had finally decided that I would transfer to SLA.

Although the transition was intimidating at first, I cannot express my gratitude toward my parents enough for pushing me to take the risk that has formed me into the person I am now, and the person I am proud to be. When I think back now to the person I was when I attended Baldwin, I am barely able to recognize that person. SLA has forced me to come out of my shell and put an end to my habit of trying to blend in with the crowd. SLA accepts me for who I am and pushes me to be an individual. I find it amazing that such a seemingly small change could change my life so drastically for the better. After taking this risk and experiencing the positive effects, I feel obligated to take more risks in life with the intention of bettering and working toward becoming the best version of myself.

My video: https://youtu.be/g5dg7k61uk8

Personal essay by Matthew yemola

Since preschool children are taught different borders separating Countries, States, Counties and cities. These imaginary lines drawn on maps no longer define an area accurately because over time these areas have changed so much. The lines that are drawn on maps were placed a  long time ago and since there placement the cultures of these areas has changed and bleed into different areas. If maps were drawn again today and the lines were drawn based on differentiating cultures from different areas they would look very different. 
Growing up in what was still Philadelphia, but not personally calling it Philadelphia shows just how much of a border there is between living in the suburbs verses living in the city. When I was a child going into the heart of Philadelphia was like going to a completely new country. People talked and acted differently from me. even though we were only separated by a  thirty minute train ride. Now that I have gotten to experience both of the areas, I can safely say that they should both not be considered  Philadelphia. Most people from both areas talk about the other as a different race almost. The interesting thing is seeing that people who experience both sides  do not seem to notice the differences. Most of the people who get to see both worlds can not see a difference between the two and this freaks me out. I wonder if maybe the two parts of Philly are actually the same and i am  just acting crazy but then I tell myself that cannot be true. 
Seeing how people who live in the city vs those who do not handle different situations is weird. People from the city tend to be much more happy,but with not as much patience. They are also not afraid to voice their displeasure with something. People who live outside the city tend to be not as loud and more independant. Not only do they act different, but there is  an age gap as well. Most people living in the city tend to be either single or living with just a spouse. Rarely do I see a family for 5 living in the city. In the Suburbs however this is reversed and the majority of the residents are families.
My earliest memory to being in the heart of philadelphia took place at SLA. I was in Mrs.Giorgio’s room for what I think was parent night . This was the first time I met my whole advisory and got to see all of their parents. It was very interesting to me to see such a wide diverse range of people in one area. At my old school the population was mostly white so seeing just one different race wasn't unusual to me but seeing a plethora of different people with different backgrounds was such an odd thing to me. I remember seeing my friend  Nick and his parents for the first time. For some reason I cannot seem to forget one of Nick's parents had a cane. When Mrs. Giorgio was done addressing the class and asked the parents if they had any questions, the first person to put up their hand was nick's mom. I remember her overly friendly tone weirded me out, but what was more strange was the weird accent she had. At the time, I had never heard it before and thought she might have a speech issue or something. After sometime, I found out she had a south philly accent. 
I personally think that going to school in the city has had a massively positive impact on my life. There have been many ways that city has changed me and I couldn't be anymore happy with these changes. I personally believe that the inner city is a much better place to allow a teenager to develop because of the benefits the city gives. 
Getting to experience the city everyday allowed me to see so many different groups of people that I would never be able to experience if I stayed in the suburbs. Seeing all these different races and cultures everyday made me much more accepting of different people and their ways of living. Seeing all these different cultures made me much more open about my own. Im personally a devout atheist and up until my journeys into the city I was very secretive of it and would never speak about it in public. Something about being in the city though makes me feel safe when talking about being an atheist. I think being around such a variety of people made me realize that someone is always going to have different beliefs then you. After realizing this I just simply stopped caring about what others thought of my opinion. 
Another great thing the city taught me was social confidence. While going to school in the suburbs I was a very quiet person who never engaged in social interactions and was very independent. Since going to school in the city I have become drastically more confident in conversations and am no longer afraid to order food for myself at Shake Shack. While i'm still quiet i'm not longer constantly worrying about social interactions and now enjoy participating in conversations. 
Overall I couldn't be happier that I decided to go to school in the city. It's given me so many different experiences that I would've never been able to experience. It's shaped me into the person I am today and couldn't be happier with my life. The city gives a way for people to experience things and discover themselves. I couldn't suggest going to school in the city anymore than I do now.

Video: https://www.wevideo.com/view/825426716


Tigidankay Saccoh

English 3


Jan 9, 2017

                                     Best Personal Essay Ever

I sat nestled in between my mother’s legs as she massaged a relaxer into my scalp. She once told me my kinky tresses were my very own majestic lion mane, but after years of yearning to fit in, she relented and tamed the beast on the top of my head. I twiddled my thumbs as she subdued the slayer of all combs, defier of gravity, the eighth wonder of the world : my afro. About thirty minutes later, she rinsed the chemicals out of my hair and my tightly coiled locks metamorphosed into fine strands that cascaded down my shoulders. Light poured through the gap in my teeth as I beamed in front of the bathroom mirror, finally satisfied with my reflection.  I would finally be just like my friends, even though I was never meant to.

For most of my life, fitting in has been a survival technique. When I moved from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to Seattle, Washington, I did what was necessary to resist ostracization. I quickly shed my accent, adopted the moniker “Tigi”, and ditched the traditional west African garbs my grandmother had sewn me. I observed the mannerisms of my all-American classmates and gradually assimilated into their culture. Soon enough, there was a stack of Barbie movie discs next to my mother’s Nollywood collection on the living room book shelf. My new Hannah Montana shirts clashed with the ornate stitching of my Kente cloth in my closet. I spent most of my freetime translating my favorite Krio songs to english in my notebook, in order to eliminate the stark language barrier. Despite all these efforts to successfully integrate into my new surroundings, I remained the odd one out.  

           To be quite frank, there is only so much you can do to blend into the crowd when you are the only black person in the crowd. From kindergarten through third grade, I was the darkest complected amongst my group of peers. I was the girl everyone anticipated a unique reaction from during discussions of slavery in social studies class. In fact, I can still vividly recall expressing audible outrage after learning about segregated water fountains during the Jim Crow era, which Jacob Allen in turn responded “You’re only mad because you’re black”. I was the second grader left out to cry in the rain after my best friends Serena, Claire, and Kristen informed me that I could not “twin” with them on “Twin Day” because my skin color did not match theirs. When I moved to Philadelphia after third grade, I discovered that my struggles with attracting unwanted attention were not unique to my elementary school’s  predominately white student body.

In 2008, my father ecstatically told me about his acceptance to the University of Pennsylvania. Following his release from jail due to a miscarriage of justice, obtaining his green card, and a few years of community college, my dad was especially determined to pursue the enriching education the civil war in Sierra Leone deprived him of. When we moved to Philly in 2009, I began attending Hardy Williams Academy Charter School in southwest Philadelphia. To my surprise, I was no longer teased for being black like I was in Seattle, but instead for not being black enough, despite my bold African features.  “Why do you talk like a white girl?”, were some of the questions funnelled my way.  Being constantly interrogated about why I spoke so “white” and why I was so serious about my academics taught me to erroneously associate intelligence with whiteness, sentiments I later disposed of as I became more knowledgeable.

Before starting ninth grade at Science Leadership Academy, I reflected on what it would mean to be in a community of many different backgrounds. Would it make me less unique? Would anyone find me weird anymore? I thought it was all I ever wanted, to be in a school where I would not be questioned for my differences. I just did not want to relinquish my peculiarness as a result. It was then that I realized I had always enjoyed being special. I did not want to have the same story to share as everyone else, and the dramatic change from attending schools lacking diversity to a school acclaimed for its cultural variance allowed me to firmly grasp this. I was determined to stand out in a school consisting of multiple people who haled from my demographic background and people who had never been able to fit in anywhere else before.

First, I learned to fully embraced my full name. I was still going by TK, but I no longer felt embarrassed telling people my full name. I made no apologies when they could not pronounce it correctly the first time. I accepted that my name, although devoid of deep, insightful significance certainly had a life of its own. Four syllables, each coated with a zesty sauce inspired by many cultures . I could taste cassava leaves and the other West African cuisines familiar to the roof of my mouth when the beautifully crafted vowels and consonants escaped my tongue. This confidence, which had always been inside me, but never truly tapped into, inspired me to join slam poetry. My first poem I shared was about finally being able to appreciate the beauty of my name.  Mr.Kay, my mentor and poetry coach, gave me the nickname TK The Voice (of a Generation) because of the exuberance and assurance I had displayed while reading my poem.

Realizing that I was never meant to be boxed into one category allowed me to thrive in many of my extra-curriculars. A short while after joining slam poetry club, I joined the robotics/engineering club. At the time, the club was primarily male, but that did not deter me from participating. I was no longer letting lack of representation discourage broadening my horizons. I quickly grew accustomed to everyone on the team and in no time I was learning how to use machinery and basics of coding. It made my parents proud to see their young black daughter defying the odds and pursuing a career in engineering. I knew that to be a woman hoping to occupy a profession in the STEM field, would be to exist in a place where I was not fully welcomed. My past, unique experiences prepared me for this feat of course.

In conclusion, realizing that I was never meant to blend in with the crowd has had endless positive effects on my experiences in high school. I have been able to push my boundaries and explore uncharted territory through the extra-curriculars I participate in and the friendships I secure. I have learned how to adapt to changes in environment without forsaking the attributes that make me who I am. This is what makes me confident in who I am today.

VIDEO LINK: https://www.wevideo.com/view/825601005

Family is everything

When going into Freshman year, I was really doubtful about how the year is going to go. I hit the middle of November, that is when I was crushed. It was the week before Thanksgiving, I was ready for our annual Macsgiving! Macsgiving is a tradition where we would throw a big party with all of my dad side of the family’s friends at my grandpa’s house. It would be the 3rd year in a row and I was excited to see faces I haven’t seen a whole year! Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays as I get to talk to family friends and eat.  l helped my mom put cases of beer and soda into the basement to store until Thanksgiving day. I went upstairs and layed in bed, pulling up my school’s website to start my homework. The phone began to ring as I ignored the christmas ringtone until my mom picked up. “Kids! Get ready we’re going to the hospital to see your grandpa!” My grandfather was in the hospital for at least half a year and it was going to be the first time I’ll see him. I haven’t see him in forever which made me a bit happy and sad.

When we were in the car for awhile, I knew it wasn’t going to be typical Jefferson hospital that we usually always go to. A hospital appeared out of the side window that I wasn’t familiar with. My family and I walked into the ICU and turned through a few hallways to find my uncles and aunt in the room in front of us which of course was the room my grandpa was in. When I walked in it was unbelievable what I saw. My grandpa had so many tubes all around his body, his entire body was filled with fluid to the point where he looked swollen. Like he was stung by 100 wasps. I didn’t even recognize him anymore. From that short old wrinkly man that I loved being around, to the swollen man in the bed that I didn’t recognize.

To see my grandpa, I had to put on an entire suit, gloves, and hand sanitize my hands. I was very uncomfortable. It was so unreal just to see my grandpa that I haven’t seen in so long. What was the point of putting all this on? I’m just visiting, not doing an operation on him. I did those procedures and walked into the room. Just looking at him was going to make me fall to my knees and cry. Everyone was surrounded around him. I was standing in front where his feet was facing me. I touched and rubbed his leg. It was the first time I touched him in forever. It felt fat, like a sausage from a deli. I looked up to see him looking into my eyes. He had no expression. But I knew that he couldn’t make one either way. A flush of warmth flowed up fast through me and I began to have a burning sensation throughout my entire body. I rushed out of the room and I was gagging into a trashcan. I didn’t know if it was the clothes they made me wear that was making me hot and lightheaded, or the thought that I haven’t seen my grandpa in so long to where it hurts to just see him in the condition he was in. After I settled down for a few minutes, I walked back into the room and walked right beside him again. My family and really close friends came by to let him know we’re here for him. I knew what was happening but I kept it in the back of my head.

When I was still at home, my siblings and I were told that he was dying. From all the faces surrounding the room, I knew it was the moment where we we’re gonna let go. To lighten up the mood and the intense emotions in the room, my uncle said, “grandpa smile for grandkids” although it was in cantonese. He smiles showing all of his teeth as if the the dentist told him to open your mouth and bite down. I laughed and smile a bit and started tearing up a bit knowing that’ll be the last time I would ever see him smile. I watched as my aunt, uncles, and my dad stood by his side and held his hand. I walked out of the room with my mom, siblings, and family friends as we gave them their time to see their father for one last time. We walked down to right turns down the hallway right into the patient room. There was drinks and snacks on the table, yet I didn’t touch a single one even though my stomach was empty. I had a blank face for a good 10 minutes as if I was thinking about life in the shower. I couldn't believe it. Happy memories flashed through my head remembering all of the things I did for my grandfather when he needed me. I started over thinking and became angry at myself that I didn’t spend enough time with him when I always came over. I kept those thoughts inside and kept the blank face.

Ding! I looked up at the tv where Steve Harvey was hosting his tv show Family Feud. I watched it, yet I wasn’t paying attention as if it was playing on mute. I heard crying coming through the hallway and looked through the opened door to see my aunt on the ground sobbing. My aunts very close friend was right next to her, holding her hands trying to pull her back up. The only thing I could’ve think of is why. Why did it have to happen now. It was the week of thanksgiving and it was suppose to be the month of being with family and having thankfulness for each other. My heart was beating out of my chest as I kept watching my aunt sob a bucket of tears in the middle of the hallway. I didn’t know what to do as I turned away and look at my brother and sister. There was no expression on either of their faces. Not even my mom or our family friends. My eyes blurred as tears began to build up. It’s been a few minutes of sitting in silence after I hear one of my uncles talk to my aunt in the hallway. “He’s suffering! Just lying there having a machine breath for him. He can’t even talk anymore!” I hear my aunt try to respond, but the tears and sniffing was in full control. I didn’t turn my head out the door because I knew I would cry, unable to control myself. I slouched down into my chair and kept telling myself to stay strong. It’s okay…... be brave justin, grandpa is okay.

“Kids lets go. We’re going home now. “ My mom demanded that we’re going home. “Where’s dad?” My brother asked. “He’ll be home later.” We got up and walked down the hallway in silence. It was the first time I witnessed my entire dad’s side of the family so close and together. I watched as my aunt was still on the floor and my uncle trying to pick her up. My other uncle is facing the wall, leaning on it with his arm up and his head under his arm. My oldest uncle and my dad was still missing as they were still in the room of my grandpa. I turned back around as we exited the building, zipping up my jacket from the wind that tipped my to the right. The car ride was silent the entire time. When we got back home, it was 1 in the morning and I showered right away. The burning hot water hits my head and flows down my body as the entire bathroom begins to turn into a steam room. My mind was blank and I just stood there. When I got out, my dad came back home. My dad walks up the stairs to get ready to shower and we all come into his room and asks when is he going to heal. “He’s dead. We cut the tube, he was suffering. Its 1am, kids, go to sleep.” I walked into my room, slammed my face into my pillow, and cried myself to sleep.

I woke up the next day walking into school with my eyes forcing to shut on themselves. A few of my close friends know what’s up and they were there for me. I handed out a funeral paper to my teachers a few days later letting them know that I’ll miss school to attend my grandpa funeral. Having family and friends is what kept my head up and let me know that everything is okay. I was basically taught that friends and family will always be there for you and you should really cherish what they do for you. My grandpa will live on in me and I’ll always remember him.

The road to inner happiness

It is December 30th, 2015. I’d never thought I’d end up where I am now. I began sophomore year optimistic, looking forward to beginning a new chapter after a successful summer. I was struggling at the time with finding out who I wanted to be and what I looked like. Slowly realizing how  “big” or “fat” I was,  insecurities came quickly. I’d taken interest in guys but they’d never taken much interest in me. My two bestfriends at the time, skinny and pretty with long hair, walking down the street with them was often painful for me. As boys would approach them throughout the day, asking for their numbers or trying to get their attention, I was left in the dust. Although boys my age hadn’t paid any attention to me, there was this one boy who caught my eye. Well dressed, goals for himself, heavily involved in extracurriculars, he’d seemed to meet my standards. We’d been friends for a little bit until I kind of developed a crush.

It was the last day of school before winter break, we all sat in class, huddled around, play fighting and laughing. I was giggling when suddenly he’d taken my phone. I had no problem when he’d asked for my password;

“ I am an open book, I have nothing to hide” I’d thought to myself.

“ What is it ?” he’d said for the second time

“ 8269, it’s my mom's birthday” I said proudly.

A few minutes had passed when I noticed he wasn’t engaged in the conversation.

“ What are you doing over there?” I asked making my way to his seat.

He dodged, I caught a glimpse of the screen, he’d been reading text messages from my best friend at the time and I. Throughout those messages were secrets that could have exposed her and I both. We wrestled for the phone until the period was over. As I packed up my things he walked passed placing my phone on the table;   

“I know something, you wanna know what I know?” he said.

I looked at him in suspicion, my stomach suddenly in knots and my heart beating fast I said

“Yeah, what do you know?”

“ What do you think I know?” he asked.

I became annoyed and nervous at the same time. I swore he knew that I liked him, walking down the hallway I was at a loss for words as he asked me every five seconds ;

“ tell me, what do you think I know?.... Huh” he said  

We’d gotten to our next class, I sat down, he sat next to me. His seat being all the way across the room I told him to leave and I’d text it to him. I pulled out my phone, opened kik messanger where I wrote;

“ I kind of have a crush on you.”  and pressed send.

Later that day I rushed out the classroom and out of the school avoiding any contact. Little did I know I wouldn’t get rejected and I would have entered a relationship that would have lasted almost a year, with on and offs.

I’d always been the girl to say “ I’d never let a boy effect my school work.” I’d prided myself on being a “good girl.” I’ve always had good grades, good friends, and a good life until I got my first “serious” boyfriend. I hadn’t completely thought about what I was getting myself into. I hadn’t even begun to pour love and all of my emotions into myself however, I decided to pour myself into someone else. I felt so mature, there were heart eyes and red heart emojis galore, we’d  talk about the future and our goals and aspiration however, things began to seem one sided. After the honeymoon stage we hit a rocky patch, the mature feeling was only a feeling and I learned for the first time that I didn’t know how to communicate. Being a public speaker, I’d thought of myself as an  eloquent  and confident speaker who spoke circles around those who would listen. This was until we had our first argument,  and suddenly I was mute.   I’d have nothing to say in front of him but in front of my friends I couldn’t stop talking and that was the problem.  He was  intimidating, he made me nervous and a little bit more insecure than I already was. I’d think that If I spoke my mind,  that instead of listening he’d run the other way,so I kept my mouth shut. He had a certain power over me that not even I had over myself.

On a day in mid-January we broke up for the first time. I went home and for the first time, I cried over a boy, About a week later, he texted me, telling me how much he missed me and how sorry he was that he wasn’t making time for me and that he’d try harder. I began comparing myself to girls I thought he wanted and overtime tearing myself apart. As I began to dig deeper into the puppy love that we had I began to stray farther from who I was and what I wanted, I was settling.  By settling I agreed to be treated without respect, to be the one in the relationship putting in enough emotion for both of us when the other was incapable of putting in emotion. Suddenly I found myself skipping class, lying to my dad, not doing homework or benchmarks because I was in my room crying or sleeping. My life as a student and as a young woman was taking a turn for the worst.

Growing up without a mom, I was not 100% sure how I should have been treated by a boy, overall I was not really taught what it meant to respect myself and know what it meant to know your worth. After sticking with this him through all of our ups and downs, being cheated on and left in the dust more than once I found happiness in myself. After realizing that I deserved better, that being treated without anything close to the amount of love or emotion you put into someone can be tiring. That not only did I deserve better but that I could have better. Over the course of the almost year long relationship I had lost weight and a begun to look at myself differently. I began to carry myself  like a young lady, with style and little bit of grace. I began to take a bit more pride in my appearance, I slowly began the road to inner happiness and realizing myself worth.I learned that how kind I am as a person can definitely be taken as a weakness. I spent a year not knowing who I was but trying to find myself in someone else.  

This is my life... upside down!

Growing up not having all of your family around is challenging at times. I grew up without my older brother, my dad, and the rest of his family. My mom never really let me spend the right amount of  time with my family  because she can be a bit harsh and sometimes over protective. I love my mom to death but I mean she gets in over her head. Meaning that she basically can overreact to A LOT of things. But anyways back to the story, I grew up knowing little about my dad’s side of the family and it became really hard to connect with them when I got older. I would go over to my Grandmoms Theresa house, who is my dad’s mom, for  thanksgiving or just a gathering and not feel like I belonged there with them. My brother Malik was the one who always made me feel like I was welcomed, or at least he tried to make me feel like I was. Even though I was never really around I loved my brother more than anyone. I still do love him more than anyone except my mom and grandmom Wendy.

Something happened before I was born, my mom had Malik at a young age and she really wanted to finish school so when she was in the hospital, my grandmom on my dad’s side took my brother back her house. My mom on occasions would go over there to see her baby, but after while things started to get complicated with my mom side and my dad side. I never knew that me and my brother would end up paying the price for their childishness.

I was born about 6 years later and my mom wasn’t bitter she let me go see my dad and the rest of his family. She would never come around them though. She would drop me off and leave, then I would come home on sunday afternoon. Before, it was totally different with Malik. Malik wouldn’t come around to my mom side of the family because when he got old enough to understand why he hasn’t seen his mom, I’m guessing he thought that she didn’t love him or something along the lines he felt some type of way which everyone would. To this day my mom and brother still don’t have a relationship, I know in my heart that they both want to they just don’t have the heart to say anything. I always felt like I was stuck between my dad and my mom because they didn’t like each other back then and yet that have 2 kids together.

I’ve said before my mom let’s me spend time with them so I would either go to my dad’s mom, who is my grandmoms house or my aunt's house, who is my dad’s sister. I never went over there for them, I went for my brother. Just because my mom and brother don’t have a relationship didn’t stop me from having one. And plus I’m his only sister so it would have been wrong to hold grudges.

I feel like he tried his hardest to make me feel like I wasn’t invisible. I knew I didn’t belong but there was a time I was upstairs in his room and he kissed me and gave me a hug and said “ I love you so much, I’ll see you later”

little did he know we wouldn’t see me later. I went back home a few short hours after he left and when I did get home he called me and said “ Where are you?”

I replied “I’m home”

he said “where, you're not in the house”

I said “No, I’m back home with my  mom”

his reply was less joyful when I said that, he was upset that I didn’t get to say goodbye and that made me upset. There was this one time when I slept over and he woke up before and I wake up to him sitting in the chair playing with my feet. It was so weird but funny, and I’m laughing as I write this memory down. We have a lot of memories but I think that we should have a lot more, but the years continue to fly by.

I remember little things like him letting me sleep in his room and we would just hang out down stairs with a couple of his friends and just watch Tv and eat food. My brother got my name tattooed on him and that made me feel like I was the one that he would never forget about. He had girlfriend but I would get jealous because when he got older he would stay out all night and leave me in the house by myself and I would just be so bored and I felt alone. The older he got the more distant he became. We used to play games, go out, watch movies and doing the things that a brother and sister should be doing. It was fun while it lasted, because when he got older it was a whole new ball game.

`One night I was at my aunt's house and it was maybe around 8pm and I was laying down on the couch when my older brother came in to check on me. I pretended to be sleep, the Tv was up so he didn’t know that when he came in I was on the phone with a friend. I hurried to put the phone away, when I could tell that he was also on the phone with someone. He say “Yeah, she’s asleep.” not knowing that I was faking the whole time. He got on the phone and came over and kissed me on my forehead and I don’t know why but I felt really loved and that was something I knew I never forget, but that kiss, this small sign of affection felt like a kiss goodbye. It felt like he was going away for ever even though I knew that he was only going right down the street to my grandma's house. When he left I got up and looked out the window and I said to myself that I have the best brother in the world. The next  morning I hurried up and ran down the street to my grandmoms house, I couldn’t wait to see my brother the next morning. When I got there the setting had changed, I told my grandmom what happened, but then my brother came down stairs and denied it all. I was hurt by that because it made me seem like I was lying about it. Shouldn’t he be happy, but then I could dodge the feeling that he was 14 around that time and we know that teenages deny everything, so I didn’t mind. Even though we both knew what happened, nobody else ever would and I was ok with that.

My brother now has two kids, Lealani and Kayden, don’t get me wrong I’m happy for him and all but then again I always think why are they here. I feel like that because I never really had a male figure in my life and seeing him actually being a father made me upset because  my dad was never like that with me. Him actually spending time with me when I was younger lead up me loving my brother like a dad and I wanted him to myself. My real dad would come around but I’ve always felt uncomfortable around him. Reason why was because I was always around Malik and my dad was never around. My dad is currently in jail for something, I don’t know what and this is how it has been most of my life. When he does come around he either just gives me presents or money and I don’t want it to be like that. I would like to have a relationship with my dad like a daughter should but it seems impossible.

The moral of the story is that I see other kids with both of their parents and I’ve always wanted that, I never got to experience having both of them around and I know my brother would have liked that too. Things happen that we can’t change and I wish I really wish that times were different. In the end me and my brother ended up paying for it.

La Moda Hermosa - La Primavera en el Aire

Tony -¡Hola! Bienvenidos a nuestro de feliz de moda y nosotros tenemos gangas muy buenas.

Alex -  ¡Tienes dos modelos muy muy guapas y  modelos Asombrosos

Tony - ¡Sí y tenemos ropa hermosa!

Alex - ¡Muchas gracias por ver!

Tony - ¡Mil gracias! ¡Disfruta!

Salsabeel models the shirt

Alex - ¡Esta camisa cuesta quince dólares!

Tony - ¡Solamente quince!

Tony - ¡Muy barata!

Tony - ¡En mi opinión me encanta la camiseta!

Alex - ¡, a mi también me encanta el patrón! Me encantan las rayas!

Tony - ¡El Púrpura color saca el color de sus ojos!

Alex - ¡Si estoy de acuerdo!

Brendan models the adidas pants

Tony - ¡ Mira mira! Aquellos vaqueros son de Levi!

Alex - ¿Adivina cuánto cuestan?

Tony - ¿Cuánto?

Alex - ¡Sólo 41.99 dolares!

Tony - ¡No me digas waww!

Alex -¡ Increible !

Tony - ¡Sí Sí !

Alex - ¡Y esos pantalones son solo díez dólares! Muy baratos.

Salsabeel models the jansport Bookbag

Tony - ¡Mira esta mochila rosada!

Alex - ¿Cuanto cuesta el Mochila ?

Tony -  Cuesta solamente 33 dólares.

Alex - ¡Cuesta un ojo de la cara!

Tony - ¿Qué te parece el color de mochila?

Alex - Es Sencilla y es en la tendencia.

Brendan models the North face Jacket  

Tony - ¡Mira esta hermosa chaqueta de North Face!

Alex - y esta chaqueta es también comercio justo fair trade y Hecho en Estados Unidos.

Tony - El chaqueta cuesta 50 dólares.

Alex - ¡Qué ganga!

Tony -  ¡Sí, la Primavera está en el aire!

Closing for the show

Salsabeel and Brendon come out

Tony- ¡Gracias para ver La Primavera en el aire!

Alex - ¡Gracias Gracias! ¡Adiós hasta mañana!

Movements of Life

I was in a different place now, a world where I have to start doing things on my own. The first day of high school was something I looked forward to. I was scared  yet I was happy. This is the beginning of a new chapter in my life that I get to enjoy. As I walked from the Broad Street Line subway to the trolley, my heart raced. I only have two stops till I get to my new school and as I got closer to 22nd and Market, my heart beats faster. I walked out of the trolley stop and turned the corner of 22nd and Market. There were students everywhere, the strangers that I will have to see throughout my high school life. As I entered the front doors of the school I signed in and looked around, confused on where to go. But, thankfully I received an email about a week or so before school started, telling me where I can find my advisory. This was the fall of 2014, my freshmen year of highschool, the start of the “best years of my life,” said everyone I knew.

But now, here I am in my junior year, the winter of 2016, coming to an end, moving to 2017.Junior year, the “most important year,” just like 7th grade, because this is the year that can lead me to  my future education. Thinking about college brings back all of the times when I moved into a new environment. The past two and a half years of high school has been a thrill but here I am, about to start into the stages of finding a new place to learn. My school have been discussing about colleges; having junior college night, letting us talk to some of the representatives from different colleges and taking us to college fairs. I wonder at times, will there ever be a time where I’ll stop changing environments? Moving to highschool and now thinking about moving to college isn’t the only time that I’ve experienced a change in my life.

Being a six year old, just graduated out of kindergarten, knowing that I have to move to the US and going to first grade there, terrified me. But, my parents took our family to go vacation before we left. When I got here, I cried for weeks when I first moved and told my parents that I wanted to go back home and that I didn’t want to be here. I cried every night, knowing that it was useless to ask to go home. The summer of 2006, was one of the worse summers of my life. My eyes got puffy every night, my face was red as a tomato, six year old me didn’t have any power but to cry and ask to be taken back home. Restless, sleeping on a wet pillow, I flipped the pillow over, not realizing that I’ve already flipped it before, so I turned the pillow to the other edge, where my damp face looked for the comfort in the softness of the pillow. I faced the wall when I slept  because that’s where I found myself at peace, that’s probably why I still do that today.

It’s getting closer to fall, so my parents enrolled my older brother and I to a Catholic school to be exact, St. Thomas Aquinas and my oldest brother to a Catholic High school. I could barely speak a sentence of English, even though I took an English class back in Indonesia. I walked to school with my brother and on the first day we met with some other Indonesian kids that went there. They were friendly, but sadly, they were all my brother’s age. I didn’t talk much in school, because I didn’t know how, but as I watched cartoons everyday I learned a lot. After three to four months later, the winter of 2006, I wasn’t afraid to speak to people. Things got harder for me, I was experiencing my first winter. I’m not used to this kind of weather, the coldest that I’ve ever experienced in Indonesia was probably about 60-70 degrees fahrenheit but it didn’t feel cold at all because of all the humidity there.

My family lived with my aunt, my dad’s oldest sister, until we can find our own place to live. Going to a catholic school meant that my parents had to spend a lot just for us to go to school. After a year, it was too much for them to send all three of us to a Catholic school so my oldest brother and I went to a public school and my second to oldest brother stayed at a Catholic school another year until he got into a public high school. With that said, moving to a new school meant I have to start all over again. I didn’t know anyone nor was I good in speaking English. Only a year has passed since I moved to the U.S and it was harder than I thought.

From second grade to eighth grade, I made a lot of friends and helped out a lot of teachers. Things were fine until I realized that I have to start highschool soon. As my eight grade year started, my mind was filled with talks about high school, “The best years of your life.” The fall of 2013 was one of the most important time for me. At times, I would feel really helpless because there were schools that my parents chose, there were schools I wanted to go to, and there were schools that I was eligible to apply to. After I finished applying to the schools that I wanted to go to, it was just a matter of time to get the results. Weeks passed, and then a couple months went by. I was really nervous when I finally received my high school acceptance letter. I decided to open it with one of my closest friends, hoping that we’d go to the same school. As I was holding the letter for the whole day, walking up and down the stairs, the walls were different colors in different parts of the school. Walking through the hallways, I noticed that the floors were dirtier than before, cobweb to my left, below the windows, dust on the edge of the doors. I was nervous; anxious to see what the results were, that I didn’t even focus on my class.

Long story short, I got accepted to my first choice school, Science Leadership Academy, SLA. Sadly, none of my friends got accepted so coming to SLA was like a fresh new book for me. It was a new start, a new story, that needs to be filled in. I’d say that high school is a fun experience. A new journey, without knowing anyone was an experience that can’t be forgotten. I made a lot of friends and got to know multiple teachers, but soon, I know that I’d have to start all over again as time passes by. Every new beginning will be a terrifying thing for me, sometimes it’ll probably stress me out, and sometimes I’ll probably be excited for it, but at the end, moving and having a new start can be a good thing. Like what Jim Rohn, an author of many books said, “Life is not just the passing of time. Life is the collection of experiences and their intensity.”  

Reverting Back To My Usual Self

Gosh I could not wait. Tomorrow was finally the day where all the fun would begin. Bzzz…..Bzzz…..Bzzz. I slapped my phone/alarm clock repeatedly as if I was killing a fly. High school, I thought to myself. So today is finally the day, huh. Yesterday still feels like 8th grade. As I slowly removed my sleepy self out of my bed, I reached for my clothes that were prepared on my desk from the day before. I scrubbed my teeth with my toothbrush and drowned my face with water, trying to desperately wake myself up. As I head downstairs, almost tumbling due to my half awake presence, I got ready to leave. I was nervous since it was my first day but I was relieved that I had my older sister with me.

The first day of high school finally hits me and then I’m just like shit… Wait, what was I thinking? I was scared, I didn’t know anyone besides my older sister. I wasn’t able to start a conversation at first. I wasn’t social like my sister. I thought, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I talk to people? There must be something wrong with me because I remembered 7th grade I wasn’t like this.

In 7th grade, I was a different person. It was a new year for me. My mom pressured me because she believed that it is the most important year in school. She would say, “high schools mainly looks at your grades in 7th grade so make sure to stay on top of that”. Also, I was placed in class with people I did not know from my previous years; it felt different. Excitement filled up inside me of the thought of making new friends. I managed to succeed in hanging out with all types of people in my class and was liked by them. As Jada my best friend in 7th grade would say, “I’m glad to have a good, smart, funny friend as you”. I mainly hung out with Jada throughout the school year. I was only placed with one Asian in the same class with me compared to the other class of 7th grade that were filled with bunch of Asians that I knew from previous years. I learned to adapt to the changes. I became more independent because I had to do work on my own. Then 8th grade came and left me speechless.

When 8th grade came, it felt like I was placed with all of the Asians of my grade. I didn’t know if it was just coincidence or if race was involved in how the classes were organized, I just knew I was placed with most of them. I was filled with joy that I had my normal friends back. My squad in 8th grade was called “The Asian Squad” by the other students. This was because every morning, mainly all the Asians would meet up at a specific spot at a black fence.

The people I hung out with in the morning included people that were not in my class but were Asian. I started to grow on them. Only 4 of them were in the same class as me but it still caused me to be dependent on them which brought the side of me I never knew I had, my shyness. Being dependent on my friends meant asking them for help when I did not want to speak as much as them. My fear of someone creeping up to me to talk with me, increased. To this day, I disliked talking to people I don’t know due to this deep fear inside me.

Back in history class in 8th grade, when we would all be done our work, my Asians friends and I would play a game. It was a game that involved kiss, marry or kill with kpop stars. The names of kpop celebrities would be put on folded papers and each of us would chose 3 folded papers. Then we would chose which celebrity we would rather kiss, marry or kill. My friends were madly in love with kpop and since as I was already a bit interested, I decided to learn the names groups and found it oddly enjoyable. One day, we were doing our normal thing in history class but this time, the atmosphere was different. The history teacher came up to us to start a conversation with us. The sound of the room went pitch quiet as you could hear the teacher glaring at us. He asked us, “Why did you girls get so quiet when I walked in?” As usual, we looked at each other and almost cracked up and then looked at the teacher.

That year, I realized that I started to shut people out from the 7th grade, even my best friend. People from 7th grade that I was super close with would come up to me and say hi. But I would just ignore them and hang out with people I was placed with, my Asians classmates. I didn’t know if my mindset was that if I hung out with them and just them I would be fine. I just hung with one specific type of people and didn’t really understand why I did that, what was I testing. I noticed that I started to become dependent on my Asians friends.

Now I'm in my junior year at Science Leadership Academy. I’m not as shy as I used to be. I feel like SLA really helped me with my shyness because SLA is a very different schools compared to other schools. This is because SLA focuses on projects instead of test and have a core values. SLA’s core values are: inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection. SLA has helped me become who I am today through the projects and core values. Since SLA focuses on projects, I have to work with others and present with them. The abundant amount of presenting in each class has guided me to be less shy. If I went to a different school, I would not be who I am today and I would not be able to revert back to when I was in 7th grade. I feel like during 8th grade, I was holding back on who I could become and thought that if I hung out with my Asians friends and just them I would be fine. This is like Bartle from “The Yellow Birds”, when he made a friend. The death of Murphy, who actually became Bartle’s best friend, hurt Bartle. He coped by getting drunk and hallucinating. Although I did not lose someone like Bartle, I lost the people who caused me to discover a new trait that I never knew that I had. As I attend SLA, I feel like I'm reverting back to my usual self due to the core values that still shape me today.

Fell into a Melting Pot

Stepping beyond my comfort zone was a huge obstacle that I had to face going into high school. As a child, I was always close to people who had the same common interests. Not only did we share the same common interests, we were also classified as the same race. My middle school was not very diverse which made me very comfortable with a certain group of people It was easier for me to hold conversations with my classmates and just be myself around them. As the end of middle school approached, I began to feel very apprehensive, I realized that I would no longer be with the same people I shared interests with anymore. Eventually, we were all going to separate and start our own adventures. I was very petrified after understanding that our journey was coming to an end. I didn't necessarily want start a new journey, I was very content with the one I was performing.

When it was time for me to apply for the high schools that I thought would strengthen me mentally, physically and spiritually, I wasn’t prepared. I knew that the schools with the best academics were the most diverse. With that thought rushing through my mind, I knew that I had to become more social with people of all races. My mind was racing with great turmoil. I was very skeptical because I thought that communicating with different people was going to be very difficult. I wasn’t being very pessimistic; I was looking at the negatives of going to a diverse school instead of the positives.

I came to my mother with many questions and concerns but her response was not very verbal. Instead, she signed me up for a shadow day at Science Leadership Academy. She notified me about the diversity that Science Leadership Academy held. The days were unexpectedly passing by, and my shadow appointment was approaching with great haste. Each day, I felt more unprepared than the previous day. My shadow appointment was going to be the start of my new journey.

Tense. The only feeling and word that I could understand. It was the start of my new journey. That morning, I woke up earlier than usual to prepare myself for a long, nerve-wrecking day. I stood in the mirror and stared at myself trying to get myself back on track. I told myself to be sanguine and to stop being pessimistic. As I sat in the car, I heard the heavy tread of my dad’s boots which only made me nervous. I put on my earphones to block the distracting sound of his walk and I closed my eyes. I listened to Chance The Rapper the whole car ride which made me feel unperturbed.

As I took my first steps inside of Science Leadership Academy, a great amount of confidence rushed through my body. I was ready to start this journey and step beyond my comfort zone. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with new people as easily as I wanted to, but I was willing to try. I was directed to the school office where I was told to sit down. As I was waiting, I seen teenagers roaming the hall, laughing and having a good time.

“Tauqee Friend can you come to the office please. Tauqee Friend.” A lady announced speaking through the loudspeakers. Suddenly, there was a great amount of confusion stirring around in my head.

“Did she just say Tauqee Friend?” I thought to myself. Promptly, a tall, dark skinned, bearded teenager rushed into the office.

“Yo Cuzz!!” He said with enthusiasm. A sudden burst of energy bolted through my body, making my day  10 times better. I was exceedingly comfortable having my older cousin by my side during this journey. I trusted my cousin and I knew that he would be honest with me. As the day progressed, I started to enjoy the school. Science Leadership Academy was a school with freedom and trust. I noticed how the teachers put their trust in the students and how the students put their trust in the teachers. Everyone there was extremely  friendly and goofy. They were outgoing but once it came to their work, they were very serious. This was the type of environment I wanted to be in.  I felt as though Science Leadership Academy was a school built just for me. I felt as though Science Leadership Academy was a school that I belonged in. I was very anxious to start attending SLA as a freshman.

My middle school friends applied to different schools. They were coaxed into making me go to their schools. I didn’t have a desire to go to any school other than Science Leadership Academy. I didn't think I would be able to express myself as well as I could in SLA. Our school year came to a conclusion and it was time to say our goodbyes. My summer involved preparation for high school and communication with new people. I wanted to make sure I went into high school prepared and focused.

My first day of high school was smooth. I was a little edgy at first, but then I realized that Science Leadership Academy is a very creative and accepting school. SLA accepts you for who you are. As a freshman, it was hard adjusting to the work. I was use to working independently at my old school and, we didn't have as many projects. When I heard that SLA was a project based school, I was under the impression that most of the projects would be single projects. My freshman year revolved around group projects, and I was obligated to work with people I didn't know. I had to understand how other people worked so that the project would be presentable.

It was hard adjusting from a test based school to a project based school. I had problems with time management and cooperation, but I knew that I would soon overcome that obstacle.


I remember sitting around with some kids in school. We were in English class I believe, and I was ignoring the assignment that was given to us. We were laughing away, telling joke after joke. I was having a great time with my friends. Well they weren’t really my friends, but I sat with them because I knew that if I sat  there I would at least feel like I’m noticed and that I amount to something. This was until a comment was made.

“Why do you smile so… hard?” she asked me with a disgusted look on her face.

“What do you mean?” I say.

“Well, you always smile really big and hard for no reason,” was the response I got.

“I mean… I guess I don’t know.” I reply.

We go back to laughing as I brush the comment off. Or at least I tried. The rest of the time we talked I had a fake smile on my face. A smaller one. All I could think about was why I smiled so hard and why she didn’t like my smile. When the comment was made, everyone was staring at my mouth. I started to become nervous because all eyes were on me and it wasn’t for a good reason. When I went home later that day I looked in the mirror and kept smiling. I tried to practice the perfect smile. I tried the closed mouth grin. I tried the straight faced smiled that makes me look like I don’t want to be doing whatever I am doing, until I got the perfect smile. Not too much teeth and not too little. It wasn’t my smile, but it was a smile.

I was always made fun off when I was in elementary school. Kids would always talk about my skin. Not because I had terrible skin quality, but because I was dark. Well I guess in their eyes that’s the same thing. They would tell me I look burnt. I’ve been bullied for my skin ever since I can remember. It got to the point where I began to hate my skin. I would do anything I could to make myself appear lighter than I was. I don’t do this anymore, but I still do not feel comfortable in my own skin. When I got to middle school the teasing turned into full blown bullying. They would destroy my things and throw stuff at me. I even got threatened a few times just for looking at people. I would try and look straight forwards in the halls if I wasn’t with my friends so that I could avoid eye contact. One time, some boys in my class filled up a book bag with as many history textbooks so they could and threw it at me. My back was sore for a week after that. Another time, a girl decided to play a “prank” on me. I would always bring flavored seltzer water to school to have with my lunch. One day I left the seltzer upstairs so the girl said that she would bring it to me so that I didn’t have to walk up four floors. When I got the bottle I knew that something was off. I didn’t hear the hiss of a brand new bottle being opened. There was no fizz. I smelled it and there was no sweet grape smell. It was toilet water. She put it in my bottle hoping that I would drink it. I cried in school. Then I cried again, when I got home. I hated school. I had a small amount of true friends, but again not many. All I ever wanted to do was stay home because I couldn’t figure out why people didn’t like me. I mean, I know I’m not pretty or the coolest girl in 6th to 8th grade, but why dislike me?

My self confidence is at an all time low since I’ve been in high school. It has always been something I struggled with, but has never been this bad. Coming to high school and seeing so many different people from different races and backgrounds has made me look twice at myself. Especially with what the norm is in society. I’m not saying that I wish I had fair skin and that I had a tiny nose that was slightly turned upwards, but that people didn’t want me to have fair skin and a tiny nose. Even my own race shames people of my skin complexion. So if I can’t be accepted by my own kind, how am I ever supposed to  find myself beautiful?  All I ever do when I look in the mirror is try and find ways to improve myself. Whether it’s getting my teeth whitened or deciding that from now on I am going to wear a full face of makeup that alters the shape of my face entirely. Sometimes I think I should dye my hair. Or cut it all off. What if I dress different? A little more girly. Maybe then even my mom will see my true beauty.  Occasionally, I can’t leave the house without getting a comment on why I have no makeup or earrings on. Sometimes I purposely don’t wear these things. Sometimes I forget. I constantly get bombarded with advice or life lessons as to why I have to “look pretty everyday” so that “boys will look at me” or I’ll “find a prom date.” Why does everything that I do with my look have to be so that I’m pleasing to others? When do I get a chance to just be myself for myself? It’s gotten to the point where I don’t like what I see. At all. I often times just lay in bed wishing that I was older so that I could just get body altering surgeries so that I can look like what everyone else wants me to look like. Maybe I’ll get a nose job. Or lipo a little bit in the stomach and leg area. I hate my body. Everything about it just disappoints me. Why don’t I wear a size 2 pants? Why isn’t my hair longer? Why can’t I just grow out my nails instead of chewing on them? All of these question I ask myself because my whole life I’ve had nothing but people in face telling me that I’m not good enough.

A lot of kids have these feelings and experiences. They shouldn’t have to, but they do. Me and a million other kids sit and cry at night hoping that someone hears our call for help because we can’t find our purpose.  When you’re failing classes, having daily anxiety attacks and people think you’re ugly, it just becomes too much. Especially if you don’t have a support system. This could be because your parents don’t believe that your issues are real problems or simply that you’re afraid to talk about it. All of these things I just described I am too familiar with, and it’s a really crappy way of living.

What I’m really trying to say is, kids suck. We are constantly putting each other down and not even realizing the long term effects that we have on people’s minds. We should be nicer to each other because sometimes all someone might need to get through their day is an  “are you okay?” or “you’re going to be fine.” Even if you don’t really like the shirt someone is wearing, compliment it. A little gesture can go a long way. All of this remembering about the taunting about my skin, face, smile, the things that made me the wonderful individual that I was. It makes me think about what a beautiful person inside and out I could have been If I wasn’t brainwashed as a child to think that I am lesser of a person than everyone who surrounds me.