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A Stolen Flute and the Search for Home

A Stolen Flute and the Search for Home

by Kennedy Sapp

kennedysappMy new flute devastated me. It felt nothing like my first flute–the one I loved at first sight. I was 10 when I walked into band, sat down, and opened up my case to the chrome keys and the gleaming gold mouthpiece. I immediately felt at home with the beauty in my hands. However, my flute symbolized the life that would soon slip away.

At 12, my family moved from Westchester, New York to Oak Park, Illinois. I felt like an outsider and hoped my love for music would connect me to a community of bandmates. On my first day, I opened my locker, reached for my flute and felt nothing.

My flute was not the only thing stolen on that day; I lost trust in the place I wanted to call home. I walked into the lunchroom, devastation still clear on my face, as I tried to find a place to sit. I looked around the lunch room, confusion immediately settled over me. I looked to my right and noticed table after table of black students, then I looked to my left and saw tables of white students .

In Westchester, diversity was not only black and white. I could walk down the hallway and see a girl wearing a hijab as easily as waving at a friend in a yarmulke. In Oak Park, I only had two clear-cut options that I disliked. So I made a third. I walked over to an empty table and sat down.

Suddenly, six girls joined my table. One of them, Briana, was new to Oak Park as well but already knew everyone. “Once you start meeting new people it gets easier. And then once you know them all, you can’t help but be yourself.”

She became one of my best friends and I tried to follow her advice. Yet feeling at home was still a struggle through middle school and first year of high school. Ironically, I found comfort in an unlikely place–the Chemistry Club in Tenth Grade. English and history were always my favorite subjects. When my brother suggested I join the Chemistry Club, I thought it wasn’t for me. However, my willingness to try something new led me to that morning meeting. I saw kids from my science class, but also girls from my dance team, kids in Model UN, and so many other types of people. Students eagerly showed me how to make the glow-in-the-dark slime.

Growing up my parents constantly preached of the importance of diversity and I saw the concept in strict terms of race, ethnicity and religion. The Chemistry Club–mostly white students with a few blacks–would not seem too diverse by that standard. Yet the interests, opinions and passions of everyone in that room were so diverse. In that moment, I began to truly feel at home in Oak Park.

Changing my frame of mind allowed me to meet extraordinary people and hear unique stories of my classmates. Initially I saw Oak Park on the surface as black and white and failed to dig deeper.  

I have also formed a lunch table that looks so different from what I saw on my first day in Oak Park. There are blacks and whites, dancers and athletes, and males and females. When I see new students or others sitting alone, I invite them to our table.

Seven years ago, someone found my old flute in the bathroom and it sits in the guest room of my house, while my newer flute is in my closet. I rarely play either, but they are reminders of how far I have come. In Oak Park, I have learned that one must take initiative to turn a community into a new home. There may be bumps along the way that may become opportunities to produce change. Just take a look at my lunch table.

Kennedy Sapp, a 2015 graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School, is a freshman at Vanderbilt University.

A Mile in Nana’s Shoes

A Mile in Nana’s Shoes

By Niles Ellis

10309198_10204289810262428_4090038177506235581_nI slide out of bed around 5:25 a.m., the sun still preparing for a long day in the sky. It’s pitch-black, except for the faint light at the end of the corridor, which leads upstairs to Nana’s house. This illumination is my sunrise every morning. As my foot touches the cold tiled floor, I arrive at my early morning sanctuary. I turn left into the kitchen and see the little old lady cooking breakfast: delicious grits, cheesy yellow eggs, crispy, tangy veggie patties.  This daily routine brings new conversations, new stories, and more lessons.

At 13, I bring her my latest complaint: mom babies me too much by driving me to school. Nana just nods. When I finished my ranting, my grandmother asks if I want to hear a story.

“When I was a little girl, even younger than you, I used to have these flatties. My two sisters and I all had the same size shoes.”

What do shoes have to do with this?

“In those flat shoes, the three of us walked the entire three and a half miles to and from school daily. In those days, Scotland County had no busing for black students. We lived across town from the black schools. On those long, 90-degree summer-like days, we walked. Feet burning from our flatties, school clothes near ruined from sweating up a storm, but nonetheless, happy to make it to school and learn some more and happy to be alive. An opportunity not many blacks had in the South.”

I was speechless. From that day on, my grandmother’s story has always remained with me.

As a point guard, I must see the game from everyone’s angle and encourage everyone to appreciate their opportunity. Nana’s story provides the model for me to do this. In my first high school JV game, I felt like I couldn’t miss a shot, but my teammates played as if they were in the bleachers.  I looked up at the scoreboard; we were losing. One man can’t make a team. So I became a general on the court, spreading the ball around. Everyone found opportunity. We won.

Nana’s stories help me to value opportunities. When I was 16, I was nominated for People to People. I needed to raise money for this opportunity to travel across Europe with 20 other students for 20 days. By spring, after a long winter of work, I had raised the $4,000 for the trip. I did odd jobs like shoveling snow, taking out my neighbor’s trash, and created a website to sell eccentric rubber bracelets.

Everything was set to go; I was to represent America as a teenage liaison and also tour Cannes, Italy, visit the remarkable Monte Carlo, and explore Barcelona. Then a bubbling apprehension began to boil over me the closer we neared the summer. Every day I wondered if I was actually ready for this trip. I had never traveled without my parents and this would be my first trip outside the United States. I feared the language barrier and I knew nothing about the Spanish homestay family. The fact that my money and effort would be lost did not drive me to overcome my fears as much as Nana’s story.

I had to go, considering the story of that little girl in the South who only knew Florence as a city in South Carolina. I would be a kid from Brooklyn seeing parts of the world some members of my family didn’t even know existed. Without Nana’s story, my perspective would have been completely different. Sometimes, I think back on that little girl in the small town, 65 years ago. She seized her opportunity and never looked back. Well, my opportunity is coming, and I’ve learned from my mistakes. The only time I’m looking back is over my shoulder to see that little girl’s face–smiling at me.

Niles Ellis, a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School, is now a freshman at Vanderbilt University.

The Gift of a Little Brother

by Arianna Francis

Little brother?  He’s a boy.  At seven, I cried and cried when I discovered the little sister I always wanted would be a boy. I already had a big brother. What could I do with a younger one? He would be useless. I couldn’t paint his nails or do his hair or dress him in my doll’s clothing.  My parents expected this melodramatic reaction. They gave me a crown shaped ring to ease the news that my hopes for a sister were as possible as the Prince selecting one of Cinderella’s stepsisters.

When he arrived home a few days after 9/11, I couldn’t put my baby brother down. His small hands, his chubby cheeks, his tiny toes, and his silky smooth skin; it was love at first cradle.

As Sage grew beyond something that fit into my arms, his influence on my life grew as well. In fact, he rescued me from a bully. She lived on my street. She played volleyball like me, she danced like me, she ran track like me and did gymnastics with me. She was the worst kind of bully. She was someone I cared about and who was close to my heart; she was my best friend, which made her piercing stares and hateful words hurt that much more. She made me doubt myself; she made me think that everything I did was wrong and the end of the world. But she also made me determined to be the best me that I could be.

My bully lived inside of me. She was the part of me that always strived and wouldn’t rest. A 95 was never enough. For years, I was under the spell of a drive pushing me to an elusive place of perfection. At four in dance,  I made sure I pointed my toes every second of each piece of ballet. In six years of gymnastics,  I did not leave any room for judges to subtract any points; however, if I lost tenths of points, I would spend the long car rides home crying.

There was one thing that could pull me away from that bully–Sage. His gentle smile, comforting back rubs and comedic ways quickly dried my tears from discontent. Sage was always there to restore the humane part of me that I often let slip away. Whenever my bully would come around, which was often, Sage was there to combat her effect on me. Sage taught me to stop being my own bully. His laugh, smile and encouragement slowly and somewhat subconsciously influenced my daily outlook. I could not resist his young, free, positive spirit and the Spongebob mentality that started his every morning; that every day would be “the best day ever.”

I became captain of my volleyball team this year and will always remember the tears that ran down my face as I sat in a circle with my teammates. I expressed that I felt like I failed as their captain after I heard that many of them were afraid to make mistakes and disappoint me. Those familiar words stung. Had my own bully influenced them? At that moment, I committed myself to making sure that each and every one of them felt special. Then the most timid player squeaked out, “Ari, you are my role model.” At this point my eyes were flooded. “I look up to you,” she continued. My tears kept coming as she continued to speak. “You always encourage me.” I could barely catch my breath. “You inspire me with your positivity.” By the end of her comments, we were all sitting in puddles of sweat and tears. We had accomplished a new type of victory in this game of life. We declared our space a bully free zone.

Arianna Francis is a freshman at Vanderbilt University and a 2013 graduate of The Ethical Culture Fieldston School.