Posts Tagged ‘Identity’

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  • Class of 2016, Elisabeth Irwin High School

Climbing Life’s Ladders

Climbing Life’s Ladders

by Erich Perry Siebert

erichsiebertA burst of light blinded my eyes for a few seconds as I climbed out of the darkness of the dusty wooden attic. A soothing breeze brushed against my face as I stepped off the ladder after climbing 10 feet. It was a sunny day so clear that I could see castles in the distance just like the one where I was standing. Just as I absorbed the rich blue skies above large green hills, I turned to find two out of five people in my group removing their equipment.

As an eighth grader, I was the youngest in the delegation of People to People Student Ambassadors travelling through the United Kingdom. We scaled the ladder together for the opportunity to rappel down the wall. Two turned back. I kept going. Since then, I have drawn on the drive of that moment.

Three years later, I decided I had to exert the strength of that moment while facing the challenges of ADHD. The more I agonized through three months of therapy and four different types of medication, I realized that there was not a magic pill for me and my life completely turned around. After much thought, I decided to create an independent study on the impact of holistic well being including mental, physical, and nutritional health on the ADHD experience. I set out to actually live the study with a healthier lifestyle, involving a more plant based diet, high intensity workouts, and practiced meditation.

The creation of the plan took the level of dedication I carried through the tall, stone passage, carrying heavy nylon harnesses in my arms a few years ago. It was quite dark and the whole inside of the castle was built with solid brick. Two guiding lanterns replaced any natural light. I didn’t feel nervous, but I was very excited.

Yet, it was a long climb that seemed like it would never end from the spiraling wooden staircase to the ladder. At the top, we stopped to prepare for the trip down the wall. When my name was called to descend, I felt startled. I cautiously made my way to the rope. The closer I came to the edge, I began to feel more and more nervous. I fastened my helmet and one of the instructors opened the trapdoor from the cherry wood ceiling. A ladder fell down to us.

As I finally reached the edge of the castle, I looked down and stared 90 feet down.I could feel my heartbeat throughout my whole body. Every sense in my body kept telling me to walk away, but I couldn’t. I knew if i had made it this far, I was not quitting, no matter how terrifying it seemed.

I now see a finish line in my independent study that resembles my feeling of accomplishment at the bottom of the wall. The research involved interviewing a nutritionist, meditation coach, and a physical trainer as well as reading articles, books , and viewing documentaries. Through my new, carefully designed lifestyle, I started to notice a huge difference and a positive impact on my grades.

When I look at ADHD in the big picture, I don’t see it as a barrier anymore, I see it as a strength. In May of 2014, Forbes’ magazine published an article about the relationship between entrepreneurs and ADHD. The article described ADHD as “the entrepreneur’s superpower.” I learned that entrepreneurs with ADHD hold certain qualities that are necessary to succeed in the business world, including creativity, multitasking, risk taking, a heightened level of energy, and most importantly, resilience–the very factor that led to a successful journey down the ladder.

Erich Perry Siebert, a graduate of Frances W Parker High School, is a freshman at American University.

Climbing and Confidence

by Dexter Zimet

I feel alone on the football field of my team’s biggest rivals. Yes, it is just me, the only player on the field against the other team of eleven. They all run for me and the only line of defense is myself.

I get that feeling in many of my classes at Dalton. I am a rare libertarian amidst extremely liberal teachers and students. My economics teacher called on me to speak recently and, before my mouth opened, I felt the vicious glares of my classmates beam towards me as if I committed blasphemy. “I think trickle-down economics work,” I said. The stares grow into eighteen shouting voices: “How can you say that?” and “You’re wrong!” My resistance to censor myself forms my persona as a strong risk taker and defines my independence. Yet speaking my truth comes at the cost of some peers ostracizing me. However, taking risks prepares me for my dream to become an entrepreneur. The people in my life always warn me that the majority of start-ups fail, but I do not fear failure or risks.

Perhaps it all starts with living in a city with millions of opinions surrounding me. Everyday people attempt, in a New York manner, to push me to adopt their beliefs, whether they beg me to occupy Wall Street or argue that JG Melon’s makes the best burgers in the city or that the Yankees define the best in baseball. I happen to, dangerously, be a Mets fan.

In baseball, football, wrestling and snowboarding, some of my risks have produced consequences: three broken hands, two broken wrists, a torn right shoulder labrum, elbow tendinitis, a forearm stress fracture, shattered left elbow, a concussion, traction apophysitis, planter faciitis, shattered finger joint, two dislocated shoulders and two broken pinkies. Not bad for a seventeen-year-old, right? Through all the trauma I experienced, I had a smile knowing I had taken a risk doing something I loved. After all, if I survive physical therapy three times, I can make it through disagreements with my friends and teachers.

The test of this confidence came two summers ago. My friend’s dad invited me to climb Mt. Rainer. He warned that I needed to train extremely hard during the two months prior to the climb in order to prepare my body and mind. I kept telling myself that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I did not take this risk. The idea of not taking advantage of every opportunity was more frightening than actually climbing the mountain. I was galvanized. I began to eat healthier and I decided to never drink soda again. During baseball camp, I woke up everyday before everyone else to work out prior to the day’s activities. In Italy, I ran along the coast on narrow roads every night as strange looking cars zoomed by. With my dogs by my side, I sprinted up and down the rolling hills engulfed in the backwoods of our summer house. During these moments, I reflected on my mission to succeed by standing out on the field and in the classroom; risk was my vehicle.

I faced the first big test on a clear morning in late August. Our plane glided past the snow-capped monster and into Seattle. Qualms arose, as my pen scratched the release form. During training, we learned potentially life saving techniques, and I quickly realized other people were going to depend on me. I was responsible not just for my own life, but also the lives of seven others tied to my rope. The second day we climbed 10,000 feet and made camp. Lying in my sleeping bag, the sounds of howling winds and falling rocks kept me awake and pushed my nerves to thoughts of quitting. At 1:00 AM, we started the climb. At many moments, I wished to turn around and head back with the 20 out of 30 climbers who decided the trek was too much. At 11,000, then 12,000, then 13,000, my mind kept telling my body that we could do this. If I were to fail, I would regret it for the rest of my life. As I trudged the last few hundred feet, the pain withered. When we reached the summit the satisfaction and joy I felt was indescribable as I saw both the space needle and the Pacific Ocean. Since that climb, I am in constant search of that feeling of achievement. My hunger for success has grown. I constantly crave the sensation I experienced in that last step to reach the top.

Dexter Zimet is a freshman at Johns Hopkins University and a graduate of The Dalton School in New York.

 

Coming of Age

by Alec Harris

I entered seventh grade with a mustache that made me look like I was 30. My thin legs made me ripe for the nickname of Frog. Then my height turned me into Godzilla. I can’t forget the flat feet that forced my uneven walk. On top of it all, I had a stutter. I felt like a misplaced piece of a puzzle carelessly thrown in the wrong box.

The struggle to fit in left me on the edge of a cliff, and as J.D. Salinger says in Catcher in the Rye, “Led me to a special kind of fall.” Every time I looked in the mirror, my seventh grade self hated the curse of puberty that turned me into a boy with the appearance of an adult.  But when I looked past my physical appearance, I saw something others could not see: the fear of being rejected for my true self. I pushed myself into conversations that did not really interest me: Gossip Girl and New York nightlife. There were those parties I did not attend, yet I found myself sharing the details of them as if I were The Man.  In order to feel a sense of association, I tried creating exuberant hand shakes when I said “Goodbye.” As I grabbed the hands of others, they would look at me with a stare that said:  “What are you doing?” I would respond by saying, “I don’t know.” What was I thinking?

I heard the words “boarding school” slip from my father’s mouth as my parents talked in the kitchen. My hands began to tremble. For the past ten years, I had grown accustomed to waking up each morning to the great smell of my mom’s breakfast. But, like Holden was told, it was time to take my leap of faith, and it would not be long until I hit the ground. My first boarding school was a single sex school like the one I attended in New York. It was not a new experience. I found a home when I transferred to Pomfret my sophomore year. I still remember my first step out of the car on Pomfret’s campus. I caught a glimpse of my reflection on the side mirror. I was ready to start over with a blank slate at a new school. As I shook the hand of my new dorm parent and prefect, they embraced me with only the knowledge of my name.

I was the only sophomore in a senior dorm.  I feared not being accepted because of my lack of maturity. Over time, I felt more comfortable, even though the seniors loomed over me with their strong physiques and their relationships with girlfriends which I had yet to experience. For the first time ever, I was in a coed educational environment and found the atmosphere more diverse and more humane in so many ways.

Unlike Holden, I embraced my life at a prep school. Outside of class, I defied my parents with a newfound independence and joined the football team. I truly discovered my position with the older guys at the school’s championship football game. The sounds from the crowd seemed to echo off the distant mountains and the ferocity of each play made it a game to remember. It was the seniors’ last chance to leave a medal in the school’s trophy case and it all came down to one play, in which Tony Campione made the game winning catch. As all the players raised their helmets up to the sky in joy, Tony ran over to me and lifted me over his shoulders. I began to tear up under the majestic stadium lights, because it reminded me of a feeling that I thought I had lost many years ago.   Many who saw my tears said, “That’s true school spirit right there!” But it wasn’t, it was me feeling like a kid again.

I also felt at home in the classroom for the first time in years. In Geometry, it was the transverse proof that made me fall in love with math. In Biology, I couldn’t wait for class each day especially as we dissected frogs. In English, I saw a part of myself as we read Catcher in the Rye.  “Its a process you cannot rush,” as J.D. Salinger wrote. “We will all fall off the Rye on our own time, and what is created when you land is the person you will naturally become.” During my first few months at Pomfret, whether it was the independence, my roommates becoming my new brothers, or the natural progression of my growth, my fall began. I was no longer a piece of a puzzle in the wrong box.

Alec Harris is a freshman at University of Pennsylvania and a graduate of Pomfret School in Pomfret, CT.

Tufts Supplements

by Tess Jacobson

Tess Jacobson

Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short: “Why Tufts?” (50–100 words)

        Is it a crush? No, it’s love. The Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development sparks the attraction, growing with notions of combining interests to create studies that are exclusively mine at the experimental college. Yet there is a “je ne sais quoi” crowning my infatuation. Perhaps it’s the sight of Jumbos devoted to academics by day, then transformed into a cohesive collective of burlesque or Kingsway African dancers by night. Maybe it’s faculty connections extending to applaud such eccentric performances. I can’t pinpoint one affection luring me in. My unbreakable tether: I only have eyes for Tufts.

There is a Quaker saying: “Let your life speak.” Describe the environment in which you were raised – your family, home, neighborhood, or community – and how it influenced the person you are today. (200–250 words)

        Every night, my brother and I would wait hungrily at the table, antsy to peel the tin foil off of the dinner and start serving the home-cooked meal. We never did, though. We knew better than to let our impatience overthrow the value of our nightly family tradition: the family starts and ends dinner together.

        As a kid, I took this ritual for granted. I thought that dining on home-cooked dinners throughout the week with the whole family was part of everyday normalcy. To my surprise, I learned that this was not the case. More often than not, life’s many other obligations prevent families from spending the amount of time together they would like during the week and, as a result, they depend on other sources of quality time. I may not have recognized my fortune during childhood, but this family custom that was as routine to me as waking up everyday has subconsciously impacted what I value: relationships, contact and communication.

        In retrospect, this deceptively customary act of love that earlier generations passed on to my parents and that is now shared with me is what has cultivated my appreciation for the way my family raised me, and has had an influence on who I am. Along with this nightly tradition, I’ve inherited the capacity to incorporate sentiment into various aspects of my life and treasure the small things that complete it.

Now we’d like to know a little bit more about you.  Please respond to one of the following six questions (200-250 words):

A)   From Michelangelo to Mother Teresa, from Jackie Robinson to Elizabeth Bennett, the human narrative is populated by a cast of fascinating characters, real and imagined.  Share your favorite and explain why that person or character inspires you.

     My muscles froze and tension wiped the choreography from my mind. The cue to enter stage left was a minute away. I shrank at the thought of having over a hundred pairs of eyes on me. Overwhelming apprehension disarmed me; I could not go out there. It was thoughts of Philippe Petit that prodded me. Walking on a wire in front of New York City, 1,350 feet above an audience of thousands, without pause. Whether at the top of the World Trade Center or down on the ground, charming his audience with illusions, Petit’s eccentric charisma never fades. His peculiarity inspires me to be original and his plucky fearlessness impels me to disregard my trepidation. Assertiveness and poise restored, I stepped out from behind the wing.

        From the moment he read about the Twin Towers, Petit’s ambition became relentless; fear of failure was not a factor in his vision. My aspirations don’t fall in line with walking on wires, but he remains my luminary. His striking audacity motivates me to take risks. Petit’s tenacious grip on his own objectives, each one unwilling to let others stand in his way, reminds me to keep an unshakeable hold on my aims. He’s deceptively serious, looking upon his commitments with intensity, while emanating a contagious playfulness that reminds me to make time for amusement. While against my nature, I have internalized Petit’s intrepidity and resolution.

Tess Jacobson was a 2015 graduate of the Trevor Day School in New York City. She recently began her freshman year at Tufts.

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.

Lessons from Both Sides of the Family

Lessons from Both Sides of the Family

by Bijan Saboori

bijan_cameraThe plane lands at a small airport surrounded by dead yellow grass. Endless old beaten-down cars and trucks speed down the highway. I am in Istanbul. I have traveled halfway across the world for a family reunion on the Iranian side of my family. However, it is the lessons from the African-American side of my family that inspired me to embark on this adventure.

Rewind eight years. I hit the ramp hard. My bike follows, tumbling on top of me. I get up and immediately hear the laughs; they sting more than the aching in my shoulder. Everybody in the skate park saw me. I could not escape the jarring commentary on my fall.

“He can’t ride at all.”

“What a wannabe.”

“Dude, this kid blows.”

I was only nine and I loved BMX, but was just learning. A few months later at our family reunion for the other side of my family–the African American side–in Las Vegas, I told my cousin Harry that I was frustrated with the taunts and wanted to quit BMX. Harry interrupted me, “Son, I don’t see any reason for you to quit doing something you enjoy. Bijan, just because you fall down a few times and embarrass yourself doesn’t mean you just give up. That’s life…You should never give up on something you love.”

I did not quit. In fact, I practiced more. My own sense of adventure matured as I learned more about my much older cousin. I once saw him hop in and out of the cockpit of a P-51 Mustang like a kid on a jungle gym. He was 90 and could still pull it off. Harry started to tear up sitting in the cockpit, remembering how he and three other Tuskegee Airmen had won the USAF’s first Weapons Meet of 1949 to determine the title of Top Gun. However, they were barred from receiving recognition because they were black. The Air Force officially recognized their victory 46 years later.

I was glad I followed his advice when I entered my first BMX competition at age 12. I started my run down the ramp with my first trick in mind, jumping with an X-up. I hit the ramp and while in the air I crossed my arms in the form of an “x” so that the handlebars would turn 180 degrees. I quickly reversed the process before landing so I wouldn’t wipe out. After that first trick I felt more relaxed and performed simple tricks like 180s, fakies, bunny hops, manuals. I fell a few times, but nothing could replace the thrill, the rush and the challenge that I continue to experience in BMX.

I furthered my sense of adventure by taking up snowboarding the following winter as well as jumping into the world of theater, where I love working on the crew. I could not resist the adventure to travel halfway across the world to learn more about the other side of my family in Istanbul last summer. I rekindled connections with family members that I hadn’t seen in years. Since then, I have become very close to Sue, my younger cousin who lives in England. She has been coping with people’s negative reactions towards her bisexuality. We talk almost everyday on Facebook: “What they think doesn’t matter. Being yourself is a key ingredient to life. Don’t let anybody make you feel bad about who you really are and how you live your life.” The words I type on the screen to Sue echo the wisdom passed on from Cousin Harry.

Helping Sue come to terms with her identity has led to my interest in psychology. I now want to obtain the academic foundation that will allow me to help others overcome issues related to identity, depression and stress. Along the way, I can also inspire others to embrace adventures that can lead them to new passions.

Bijan Saboori, a graduate of Cleveland’s University School, is a freshman at American University.

 

Propelling My Voice

Propelling My Voice

by Jordan White

jordanwhiteAs the youngest in my family by eight years, I was awkward, painfully shy, and tired of being verbally overshadowed. So, at 11, I decided to make my debut at the Christmas dinner table.  

“Did you hear that Lady Gaga might actually be a man?”

Immediately, my brother took over the conversation with a story about a transgender girl from high school, while my uncle followed with a tangent about gender-neutral bathrooms. My inaugural appearance as a provocateur had failed, and my presence once again faded into the background.

My family’s dinner conversations have always been equal parts vulgar and intellectual, with topics like the Bonobo chimpanzee’s bisexual pursuits to adolescent Italian castrati. Outlandish oddities cleverly become family inside jokes. I would spend meals dreaming of my moment to provoke, taking periodic breaks to notice whichever condiment was staining my dad’s shirt. Embarrassed and discouraged by the Gaga debacle, I decided speaking was not to be my mode of self-expression.

Weeks later I became a writer, thanks to our fifth-grade historical fiction project. Some chose to write about the Revolutionary War, while others ventured into the depths of Nazi Germany or Jim Crow. Sometime during the fifth draft of my Civil Rights story, I decided to produce something different. Filing through my mental bank of memories and family conversations, I chose the New York crack/AIDS epidemic of the late eighties.

I altered my story completely. Julius Jones––my proud, stoic, fictional NAACP Chairman––devolved into Julian ‘Juli’ Jameson: a hopeless, staph-infected drug addict with a mayo-stained shirt. Night after night I scanned the depths of Google’s “crack” files, even turning off Image SafeSearch to examine the faces of its victims. I took my desire for identity and applied it to Juli’s journey. As I struggled to find a voice among extroverts, he struggled to find purpose in his dingy Hell’s Kitchen tenement.

The story was a hit among teachers and peers, propelling my confidence as a student. I started writing personal essays; packed with details that I had saved in my mental notebook. In seventh grade I wrote an essay about death, and an influx of long lost memories rushed onto the paper. Rather than seeing sadness in mortality–a hospital, or a coffin, or Benta’s Funeral Home–readers saw my grandmother putting coffee in my sippy cup and telling me she suspected her neighbors were axe murderers. My English teacher suggested I submit the essay to a writing contest, telling me I deserved an audience. I ended up winning, and found my path as a student altered forever. In a school full of inventors and mathletes, writing had become my “thing;” a way to value myself beyond numerical assessment.

Today I’ve established my voice beyond just essays, but my writer’s imagination stays with me almost everywhere. People in my life sometimes become characters that I control. For example, at my uncle’s funeral last winter, my family sat silently in prayer. I made eye contact with the young thurifer shifting nervously behind the priest. I imagined that it was his first day on the job, the way only one pant leg was cuffed — he must have been rushing out of the house. I liked to think his girlfriend made him a good breakfast and said “good luck today, honey” when he left. Luck wasn’t exactly the right thing to wish to someone who was going to a funeral but then again “goodbye” would have been too morbid. I took mental note of the stained-glass windows and saved the detail for future use.

The more I write, the easier I find it to talk– about myself and the world around me, even at the dinner table. When adults mutter about the tribulations of their nine-to-fives, it is not uncommon for my mother to now interrupt, pleading for a breath of life: “Let’s liven things up. Jord, what should we talk about?”

Jordan White, a graduate of Hunter College High School, will begin her freshman year at Wesleyan in a few weeks.

 

My Global Gateway: Food

My Global Gateway: Food

by Asha Hinson

ashahinson

The aroma of sweet jerk chicken and oxtails consumes my nostrils, blocking any scents of urban pollution the second I exit the 2 train. I always feel at home in Flatbush during the afternoon rush hour. I immediately see signs advertising the best beef patty or roti in Brooklyn. People line up outside little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, waiting for their favorite Caribbean delicacies–even during the winter.

If Mom picks me up at the train, we join a line and I suddenly get a lesson in cuisines and cultures of places far beyond Brooklyn. Markets sell all kinds of meats and fish, which stir my curiosity. One day we stop at a restaurant without a name on the door but with a menu displayed on the wall.

“What are doubles?” I ask Mom.

“You have had doubles before; a sandwich with two deep-fried flat breads stuffed with a chickpea curry.”

I experience the diversity of my identity through food. I easily find my mom’s Grenadian-Bajan background in cuisines on Flatbush streets. On weekends, I explore my dad’s Southern roots. Grandmother Rita came to New York from Georgia sixty years ago. When I enter her Bronx apartment, I immediately face a plate of fried chicken and collard greens over lots of laughs at old pictures and stories of Daddy’s youth. On school days, I come from a comfortable bed in a Brooklyn brownstone to a Manhattan progressive school where food becomes part of our curriculum in studying the world. Last year, my friend, Mirwat, bought Kissan jam and shared stories from her native country, India. She described classes taking place on railroad platforms or in small cabins and students walking along a bamboo bridge to commute to school.

Food also helps me strengthen my bond with my summer brothers who live in Texas. As an only child, my four younger cousins–Quentin, Marley, Maxwell, and Cameron– fill my void of not having siblings. For as long as I can remember, I have spent a chunk of every summer with them in Dallas. Over barbeque, we experience the world of rodeos. I love taking them to aquariums, pools, and their favorite, amusement parks, in between feasting on Italian Ices.

My brothers teach me to treasure the differences in people the same way I appreciate varieties in food. Yet I also understand that some divides run too deep for a meal to bring the two sides to a toast. For example, rewind to an amusement park last summer: my six-year-old cousin, Marley, stares in awe at a monstrous structure before him. As usual, I try to imagine what is running through his mind. I see the fear in his face grow as he analyzes the bright blue slide, glistening in the scorching Texas sunlight. He is excited yet frightened.

A man tall enough to play Big Bird gives Marley terse instructions. “Lay down on your back, little boy, and cross both your arms and feet! Okay?”

Marley stares upward with wide eyes fixed on the impatient slide attendant.

“Hurry up, kid, we’ve got other kids waiting. Go down already!”

Food can not bridge this gap. I wish the giant slide attendant could read the articles I devour on Autismspeaks.org. If he understood Marley’s differences, maybe he wouldn’t be so impatient. Marley is on the autism spectrum and inspires my appetite to learn as much as I can about child psychology. I draw him close, bend down, and look in his eyes.

“Marley, don’t worry, there is nothing to be afraid of, I will go to the bottom and wait for you.”

Unfortunately, Marley chose to walk away from what could have been the ride of his life. If he faces the top of the slide next summer, I will try again to inspire him to try something new as easily as I sample a different kind of fish or meat in Flatbush.

Asha Hinson, a 2015 graduate of the Little Red Schoolhouse and Elisabeth Irwin High School, will be a freshman at Smith College in the Fall.

The Summer Wind of Change

The Summer Wind of Change

Kennedy Austin-Headshotby Kennedy Austin

The summers I knew were gone. Instead of flip flops, I wore sensible pumps. Instead of immersing my toes in the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean, I dipped my feet into adulthood.

When junior year ended, I didn’t feel that same tingly sensation of freedom and excitement. Instead I felt nervous. Ahead of me was a leadership conference, an elective summer-long math course, and an internship at South Bronx Health Clinic. All would be incredibly rich experiences moving me another step closer to my goals of combating economic inequity and a public health career. With a lump in my throat, I leapt forward, feeling eager yet anxious about how I might fit into new worlds.

My summer officially began with a train ride to Washington, D.C. Nominated by my dean, I was selected to be an AnnPower Fellow and attend the Vital Voices Leadership Forum where accomplished female leaders mentor 50 young women. My application included a plan to develop a high school course on economic inequity for privileged youth. Over the past two years I have become increasingly sensitive to inequity in my environment. Traveling around New York City, I’d gone from seeing extreme privilege to seeing people scraping by within minutes. Following Hurricane Sandy, I carried non-perishables to families stranded in public housing while replaying in my head television images of people with resources sheltering in luxury hotels. Seeing people struggle while others wined and dined made me angry. Why should different income levels afford different solutions in times of disaster?

At the Leadership Forum I talked to women from all over the world: a congresswoman from Argentina, a presidential candidate for Cameroon, and a graffiti artist who uses art to prevent domestic violence in Brazil. I encountered the go-getter lifestyle by workshopping elevator pitches, developing platforms, and networking.

The encouragement of mentors and other fellows was life-changing. I cried every day because I had never felt such empowerment. I came home with stars in my eyes looking at my passion to tackle economic inequity and health disparities. I began my internship the following week.

I made the 90-minute trek from Brooklyn to the South Bronx Health Clinic in one of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods. I sat for hours at a lacquered wooden desk. My job was to approach strangers and cheerily ask them to sign up for trips to the farmers’ market, Zumba classes and nutrition workshops. Some said yes and never came. Others were forthcoming, politely saying, “Oh, well, it says you can’t bring kids — necesito a llevar mi niño,” or “I have to work.” To that I smiled, though it probably looked more like a grimace, and said, “That’s a shame.”

After weeks of incessantly pitching programs, participation was low. I told my supervisor that potential clients were forced to choose work over activities and urged her to change the activity times. She refused. I had to accept that I couldn’t change her agenda because this was her job and I was just an intern. However, it didn’t defeat me or the fervor I had gained from AnnPower. I still loved speaking to patients about programs every day.

Previous summers now blur together like dream sequences. I move freely from  tightrope-walking on a college campus in between classes to manning a four-woman canoe in camp regatta, and eating Chipotle until my stomach hurt. Last summer, I didn’t frolic like I had in the past. I did not indulge myself in the ephemeral bliss of unadulterated liberty that only a child knows as vacation months. Rather, much like diving from a cliff, I plunged into the realm of career-building and risk-taking, and I grew. I put myself out there, spoke my mind, and pushed myself forward.

By summer’s end, despite their drabness, my sensible pumps had become more comfortable. So comfortable that I haven’t rushed to put my flip flops back on.

Kennedy Austin, a 2015 Graduate of the Berkeley Carroll School, will be a freshman at Wellesley College in the fall.

 

A Rough Field for Everything….Everything but Race

A Rough Field for Everything….Everything but Race

by Conner Chapman

connorchap

A right arm hung from a body after our linebacker picked up the opposing quarterback and slammed him on the turf. The kid’s season ended with the nearly detached arm in front of my eyes. A year later, I rushed past an offensive lineman and dove for the quarterback. I missed. When I looked down, my mangled pinky finger barely hung on my hand. A trainer popped it back in, but I was done for the night. At least I had the rest of the season.

My finger still hurts, but not enough for me to abandon the sport. I am content playing football, not because of the brutal impact on my body, but largely since the game provides a level playing field where performance–not race–matters. Moreover, strong performance in football does not produce the remarks I confront for academic achievement, which are often blatantly couched in terms of race: “Now here’s a black kid who studies.”

Football isn’t a world free of problems. Yet on game day, my school’s black and gold are the only colors that produce team loyalty. If Trayvon Martin was on my team, he would have been safer on the field of broken fingers and arms than he was in the neighborhood where he met George Zimmerman. Moreover, if Martin confronted any brutality on the field, it would have been part of a play that had nothing to do with race.

A week after the not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, I was at a forum sponsored by Jack and Jill, an organization of black families. An elderly man yelled, “It was Trayvon Martin’s fault for being killed. He shouldn’t have been out at night wearing a hoodie.” I was shocked, angry and offended. This man was actually a black father of a teenager. I guess it was his way of saying “pull your pants up.”  I stood and responded. “You are wrong,” I said. “There is no way you can justify Zimmerman’s actions or Trayvon’s death.”

After reflecting on the forum, I must admit it is only realistic to expect others to judge African-Americans based on prejudices tied to race and appearance. While the man’s comment felt outrageous, he raised a valid point, whether I liked it or not. If Trayvon had been wearing a suit, would his appearance have been enough to disarm some of Zimmerman’s racism, saving Martin’s life? This question is painful and disheartening, but real.

Unfortunately, I will probably spend my whole life disproving the stereotypes inside the minds of others. I will be forced to carry myself in a clean cut way that does not promote any triggers of black male stereotypes. In doing so, I will continue to be praised as an exception with compliments that don’t feel like real compliments. Achievements of mine are so often now called remarkable because I am black. This further inspires my appreciation of football where my abilities never wear a racial stain.

On the field, the roughness of the meritocracy inherent in the game compels players to think as a team regardless of race. The tough game provides a field where 22 players find equal opportunities to perform once they are in the game. However, I refuse to rest my laurels on football and allow centuries-old stereotypes to dictate my fate. Part of my life’s mission is to destroy barriers that confine blacks to narrow opportunities.

Coming home from a big win recently, my teammates were too happy to remain quiet. We sang, rapped, and made fun of each other and the coaches in jest. It didn’t matter whether you could sing or rap and, as usual, we were a team of only two colors–black and gold. I hope to create avenues where this kind of moment–so unburdened by race– is the norm. If only I could bottle that spirit on the bus and spread it worldwide.

Conner Chapman, a graduate of Long Island’s St Anthony’s High School, will be a freshman at the University of Chicago in the fall.