• Topic

  • School

Who says “Asians don’t play basketball”?

by Calvin Ng

UntitledI was the only Asian freshman to make the Junior Varsity basketball team. My teammates questioned how I even became a Running Rebel. “Asians don’t play basketball.” This didn’t anger me; it just compelled me to prove myself in the sport I love. A year later, I was named captain of the team.

In the final game of our season, I look at the freshmen on the bench. Unlike me, they don’t have anything to prove due to race. Yet, there is a yearning in their eyes. They want a chance to play instead of sitting helpless in the last game.

We fall behind in the second quarter. Our starters, frustrated, argue on the court, blaming each other for missed shots. Coach Barbin calls a timeout. He yells at me–the captain–and the other starters. I cut him off and ask him to play the freshmen. His face says it all–who in their right mind would put inexperienced freshmen in a game right now?

“The starters aren’t doing well at all and we’re down by ten. There’s nothing to lose,” I reason.

He agrees and benches all the starters minus me and picks the four freshmen. This is a completely new team I’m leading now. My teammates listen and move the ball around. Despite their inexperience, they cut, set screens, and shoot well. We win the game and I see the leader in myself come alive.

For years, everyone pointed to me as a good leader–everyone but me perhaps. At my middle school graduation, I expected to win an academic award but was shocked when my name was called to the stage for the leadership award. It wasn’t until I played on a basketball team that I really saw myself as a leader, which grew out of my tenacity and devotion to the sport. The summer before I became captain, I went to Crocheron Park in Bayside, Queens daily to practice and play. I had already overcome others’ doubts about me as a player due to my race, and would play full court pickup games with the older guys. Whenever I performed poorly, I pushed myself harder in drills to get better. After this regimen, I was able to shoot further, jump higher, and dribble better.

When I returned to school, my teammates saw the improvement, acknowledging me as an equal. Yet I struggled as leader of the team with the starters all season. They always played every game despite poor performances. Perhaps the true lesson in the moment I pushed for the freshman to play was directed at the starters. They never focused on the consequences of playing poorly, not seeing how their bickering affected the team. By contrast, the freshmen always looked for advice when they took bad shots. Rather than merely citing their mistakes, I offered ways they could improve as players. In doing so, I experienced what I loved most about leadership–helping anyone who wants to improve.

This central trait to my leadership–my desire to help people–continues to appear beyond basketball. I apply the lessons of leadership on the courts as a volunteer tutor at a community center. My first student, Vivian, a freshman who had difficulty in Algebra, was unsure in approaching problems, often mixing up operations when solving equations. I recognized this right away. I did not make her feel bad about her shortcomings. I looked for a solution to help her as I did with the freshmen players. I immediately created a guide sheet for her, writing all of the basic guidelines for solving equations.

In some ways I thank those who doubted my abilities as a player. They inspired me to push myself harder as a basketball player. In the process, I discovered the leader in me and realized the values of practice and tenacity. I know I will be able to apply these lessons to so many avenues in my future.

Calvin Ng, a recent Stuyvesant High School graduate, will be attending Cornell University this fall.

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.

The Invincible Decision

The Invincible Decision

by Jordan Atkins

IMG_9186I was one of the invincibles in eighth grade. Family, friends, and fans called us the “B5”– five talented black athletes within a predominantly white community. With 31 wins and 0 losses, we reached the goal of a perfect season while dominating our opponents and inspiring excitement in our community. We could make history if we continued to play with the same level of intensity in high school. It would be the first time in our high school’s 65 years that African-Americans would comprise the entire starting lineup in any sport. Our future high school basketball careers and prospects for a state championship looked as bright as the infamous “Fab Five,” Michigan’s 1991 recruiting class. There was one problem: I knew that basketball at the next level would consume all my free time and prevent me from pursuing other interests.

Community and friends versus my own heart: At the end of freshman season, I had to choose between succumbing to the pressure of pleasing others and following my true interests. In looking back, I tapped into the courage I found when I began to negotiate the boundaries of stereotyping.  It started in sixth grade, with friends often saying: “Jordan, you’re the whitest black person I know,” referring to my proper style of speech.  These comments were hurtful, and although said jokingly, I felt the stereotyping and disrespect inherent in them. I was born in the same suburb as my friends and had experienced a strong sense of community. Yet, I realized the powerful stereotypes of race and athletes. In the beginning of eighth grade, I built up the courage to confront those making such comments, and the jokes stopped.

Months later, it hit me. If I continued basketball, I would have limited time to improve football and baseball skills, explore my interest in business outside of school, or even volunteer in mentoring programs. Working with younger kids was a passion and skill that started when I attended a small private elementary school. In third grade, I began work with preschoolers, spending half of my lunchtime reading stories to them. Eventually, I helped those in younger grades with schoolwork. I never had time to pursue this kind of volunteering once I began playing basketball at an intense level. So, before the basketball season started in my sophomore year, I made the decision to walk away from the sport.

Without the added demands of basketball, I began participating in business competitions held by the Business Professionals of America. I spent countless hours taking notes and studying fundamental accounting, banking, and finance principles. The determination to dominate at these business competitions felt similar to the tenacity with which I used to practice my shots before game day. But rather than looking for external encouragement from coaches, I became self-motivated. In my first year, I qualified for nationals.

I always loved football, and could now explore that interest. At first, I faced discouragement from future teammates, since I hadn’t played on the freshman team. But again, I stayed true to my interest and ended up starting on both offense and defense my sophomore year. I am now a team captain for the varsity team. In some ways, my role resembles my elementary school mentoring, helping younger football players maneuver the grueling demands of football and academics. I also advise them on other off-the-field issues such as taking ownership for behavior in and out of school.

Quite honestly, I do miss basketball, and think about the missed opportunity for fame and heroism. But, I do not regret my decision. When my school’s team made it to the State’s “final four” with only three of the B5 as starters, I often thought and was told, “That could’ve been me playing.” Yet every good decision comes with sacrifices.

Jordan Atkins, a freshman at the University of Michigan, is a graduate of Adlai E Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

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 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.

Winning Without a Label

Winning Without a Label

by Sydney Webber

11082549_10205536740953368_2880924316986633246_nI remember Fridays when I walked home from school with Eric, rushed to change clothes and headed across the street to his house to play.  At dusk,  I’d head home to shower and put on my black dress, stockings, and flats and return to Eric’s for Shabbat dinner.  I still remember the distinctive taste of Challah and tons of food that his grandmother cooked.   I never felt out of place as the only person in the room who didn’t understand the Hebrew prayers.  Then there were my Tuesdays, reserved for the playground with Uzuri and Hector, my friends from Nigeria and Colombia.  I always found time every week to hang with Sam, my Venezuelan best friend.

It all changed when I turned eight. My family left Maplewood, a town known for its diversity, for Morristown, where we were the only black family on the block.  On the surface, Morristown lacked diversity, especially considering my overwhelmingly white neighborhood that matched the makeup of the honors courses that I took in high school.  I spent years looking for a label to fit in besides “black girl.”  I would learn the irrelevance of labels in the spring of junior year when my name found it’s way to a ballot that read Bill, Phillip, Joe, and Sydney–the typical “hot guy”, the “jock,” the “class clown,” and me.  There was not a label for me, which, at first, made me think I must be crazy for running for class president.  The girls would vote for Mike, the basketball team for Drew, and Matt’s speech would make everyone laugh. Didn’t I need a label to win?

In Maplewood, there were not any two people who seemed alike so I never thought twice about being myself.  It wasn’t until I was placed in an environment where the white majority was dominant and seemed to be monolithic that I experienced a discomfort with myself.  I tried desperately to be like my friends.  I straightened my hair everyday to get rid of my natural afro I wore as a child.  I listened to the bands that my friends loved even though I hated the music. I wore Abercrombie, even though the clothes weren’t meant for my Beyonce-like curves.  I became secretly thankful for my light skin tone because it made me look closer to the majority than those with dark skin. Throughout middle school, I felt ashamed to be black because it differentiated me from everyone around me.

My family’s Kwanzaa celebration launched my journey to self acceptance.  When I was thirteen my mom invited our white neighbors to the celebration.  At first I was embarrassed to share this part of me with my friends.  I thought they might see me differently if they witnessed this hidden side of me. I feared it would accentuate the obvious differences I tried to escape.  At that moment I thought back to Maplewood and remembered its okay to be racially different. The girl who now believes Kwanzaa is for everyone became one who realizes the school is not just made up of labels.

I changed my definition of diversity beyond race and ethnicity. I saw that white people should not be defined by being white just as I should not be defined by a label of race. I also saw the superficial constructs of the labels my opponents wore and embraced.  I discovered I was not the underdog in the election and that lacking a label was my asset. I wanted to represent the majority of our grade that didn’t have a “title,” like those who do not like the lunchroom social world, those unafraid of being smart or being called a nerd, and those who value eclectic interests.  I had started to see my classmates and myself beyond superficial labels. Moreover I won the election because my classmates were able to see me beyond any labels while my opponents epitomized typical high school classifications.

Sydney Webber, a graduate of Morristown High School, is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

The Life of a Commute

The Life of a Commute

by Jourdan Espeut

jourdanimage

When I bound out of my house to begin my 75 minute commute every morning, the neighborhood is dreary and empty. I find comfort on my tree-shaded block of well-kept row houses. Since birth, I have lived in the house Mom has called home since she arrived in Brooklyn from Panama 45 years ago.

I try to picture Mom’s stories of the good old days in East New York, as I leave my block and pass the massive housing projects in front of the bus stop. I never bother looking at the schedule. The bus comes as it pleases so I leave extra early. I crave iced coffee, but can’t find a good cup until later.

It is a speedy ride to New Lots Avenue where I catch the 3 train.

“Hey girl, whatcha readin’?” says today’s suitor, as I bury my nose in The Invisible Man.  

Like, do you even care what I’m reading? “Not interested,” I respond.

I should actually thank those guys that hound me every morning. They give me great practice in maintaining composure in challenging environments. Take the basketball games when I am greeted by snarky comments from rival cheerleaders: “Your uniforms suck.”

I ignore them just as I dismiss those baffled by my cheerleading. My friends at the Writing Center, where I was selected to serve as a tutor, argue that cheerleading is “superficial.”  I disagree and keep cheering.

A screeching halt brings me back to reality.  After a handful of stops on the 3 train, I’m onto the 4 train at Utica Avenue. The doors open with a loud bing. I’m instantly shoved in all directions. Finding a seat is like animal feeding time. Standing or sitting, I read or daydream.

I remember when Mom used to ride with me to The Little Red Schoolhouse, as my train stops in Lower Manhattan. I was one of three African American students in my grade. In those innocent days, I never felt different. I left Little Red for public middle school, where most of my classmates were black and Latino.  Many of them hated me. There was the girl who wrote “Oreo” in sharpie on my locker. I drove myself to get strong scores so I could attend a high school with students that would not equate good grades with whiteness. My hard work paid off with admission to my first choice: Eleanor Roosevelt (ELRO).

My commute now extends to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Knowing it is almost over once I reach 42nd street, I dart across the platform and squeeze myself into any space that’s left on the 6 train.

I was excited about high school.  Finally, people who won’t judge me for loving academics. Yet I went from being “too white”  in middle school to, ironically, “too black”  for many at ELRO. I endured every stereotypical black joke in the book: “If you had a superpower it’d be flying through the air with a noose around your neck.”

However, I stopped listening, dismissing those comments as if they came from a morning suitor. I made a diverse set of friends and jumped into writing, student government and, yes, cheerleading.

My daydream ends.  I finally get out at 77th street and it’s a breath of fresh air.  Trendy boutiques and Starbucks stand on every corner. I happily order my regular iced coffee and talk to the staff. Suddenly, I’m not traveling alone; I’m flanked by friends on each arm, and I feel confident.

Both ends of my commute produce my sense of security.  When I arrive on my block after the ride home, I see Miss Peggy, a neighbor I have known forever who loves to share books with me. Her greetings are always a reminder that where I come from is not at all negative; it has helped shape me into the resilient, driven individual I am today.

Jourdan Espeut, a graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, is a freshman at The New School.

Who says “Asians don’t play basketball”?

Who says “Asians don’t play basketball”?

by Calvin Ng

UntitledI was the only Asian freshman to make the Junior Varsity basketball team. My teammates questioned how I even became a Running Rebel. “Asians don’t play basketball.” This didn’t anger me; it just compelled me to prove myself in the sport I love. A year later, I was named captain of the team.

In the final game of our season, I look at the freshmen on the bench. Unlike me, they don’t have anything to prove due to race. Yet, there is a yearning in their eyes. They want a chance to play instead of sitting helpless in the last game.

We fall behind in the second quarter. Our starters, frustrated, argue on the court, blaming each other for missed shots. Coach Barbin calls a timeout. He yells at me–the captain–and the other starters. I cut him off and ask him to play the freshmen. His face says it all–who in their right mind would put inexperienced freshmen in a game right now?

“The starters aren’t doing well at all and we’re down by ten. There’s nothing to lose,” I reason.

He agrees and benches all the starters minus me and picks the four freshmen. This is a completely new team I’m leading now. My teammates listen and move the ball around. Despite their inexperience, they cut, set screens, and shoot well. We win the game and I see the leader in myself come alive.

For years, everyone pointed to me as a good leader–everyone but me perhaps. At my middle school graduation, I expected to win an academic award but was shocked when my name was called to the stage for the leadership award. It wasn’t until I played on a basketball team that I really saw myself as a leader, which grew out of my tenacity and devotion to the sport. The summer before I became captain, I went to Crocheron Park in Bayside, Queens daily to practice and play. I had already overcome others’ doubts about me as a player due to my race, and would play full court pickup games with the older guys. Whenever I performed poorly, I pushed myself harder in drills to get better. After this regimen, I was able to shoot further, jump higher, and dribble better.

When I returned to school, my teammates saw the improvement, acknowledging me as an equal. Yet I struggled as leader of the team with the starters all season. They always played every game despite poor performances. Perhaps the true lesson in the moment I pushed for the freshman to play was directed at the starters. They never focused on the consequences of playing poorly, not seeing how their bickering affected the team. By contrast, the freshmen always looked for advice when they took bad shots. Rather than merely citing their mistakes, I offered ways they could improve as players. In doing so, I experienced what I loved most about leadership–helping anyone who wants to improve.

This central trait to my leadership–my desire to help people–continues to appear beyond basketball. I apply the lessons of leadership on the courts as a volunteer tutor at a community center. My first student, Vivian, a freshman who had difficulty in Algebra, was unsure in approaching problems, often mixing up operations when solving equations. I recognized this right away. I did not make her feel bad about her shortcomings. I looked for a solution to help her as I did with the freshmen players. I immediately created a guide sheet for her, writing all of the basic guidelines for solving equations.

In some ways I thank those who doubted my abilities as a player. They inspired me to push myself harder as a basketball player. In the process, I discovered the leader in me and realized the values of practice and tenacity. I know I will be able to apply these lessons to so many avenues in my future.

Calvin Ng, a recent Stuyvesant High School graduate, will be attending Cornell University this fall.

Stereotypes: Black Muggers, Brown Terrorists; a Young Liberal’s Challenge

Stereotypes: Black Muggers, Brown Terrorists; a Young Liberal’s Challenge

by Curran Dhar

2014-05-23-10168197_10151966188332132_8827411258487239017_nI slammed myself for being a racist the second after I felt the impulse to walk away from the sight of two African American men. They stood huddled together in my view on the approaching subway car at the Wall Street train station. I first imagined they would jump me if I sat in “their” area, so my impulse was to run to an entrance of another subway car. I then scolded myself. After all, how could I fear them, since I too have been a victim of racial profiling and even once called a “brown terrorist?” I pushed myself to just walk into the train where they stood.

When I entered the subway car, a man obstructed my path with a concealed weapon in his sweatshirt. He used it to push me backwards. It was the same man who I feared earlier. He was indeed dangerous. I looked to my left, but it did not provide a safe route away from the danger. Two other men who were on the train blocked my path to escape. A fourth man emerged—the same man who stood beside the original man. Before I knew it there were four muggers and one victim. The men cornered me against a wall and demanded that I give them all of my possessions–my iPod touch and my wallet with the $80 I had saved to buy a gift for my mother.

At first, it was irresistible to fall into the trap of identifying with people I previously would have considered obnoxious Americans—the kind of people who would not have thought twice of running in the other direction of the two black men I saw on the subway. Initially my new allies in thought were the kinds of people who would have safely fled to another subway entrance without any self-scolding. Shouldn’t I now be one of them? As the old saying goes, “a liberal is just a conservative who has not been mugged yet.” But I now have my own saying: A true liberal realizes that individual experiences are not an excuse to be a racist. I am proud that I criticized my first impulse at the sight of the black men, and am now even more disgusted by the idea of holding a race of people accountable for the actions of four immoral men. Why? First of all, I abhor people who immediately associate me with Osama Bin Laden because of my brown skin, as I am Indian American who has been mistaken for an Arab or Muslim terrorist.

Two years ago I was traveling to Florida with my friend, Ian, and his family, who are all white. We were all going through the security check when I was pulled aside from the group and asked to participate in a “random” security search. I obliged, and of course they found nothing but apologized for the delay. During the course of the search I clenched my fist and thought to myself how racist the white security guard was for picking me out of the group at “random.” His apology for the delay also seemed like a nonchalant version of saying “sorry I mistook you for a terrorist.” It felt humiliating to be treated differently than everyone else. Ian’s family looked the other way and said nothing, while Ian joked “Random my ass.”

It is also too easy throw a stereotype into the equation of a fight when the color of one’s skin has nothing to do with the battle. I saw this on the soccer field in a school match. An opponent tackled me maliciously as we were both trying to get control of the ball. I got up and went face to face with him as our tempers rose, and after a couple of seconds he told me that I was “just a brown terrorist.” I don’t believe he realized the gravity of what he had just said, but to him it must have seemed like a petty way to attack me.

I don’t think the liberal stronghold on my perspective is totally tied to my encounters with racial profiling. I was raised in the liberal enclave of downtown New York. I also have two Indian parents who have friends of several different races. My attachment to liberal family values has remained strong. No matter what happens it seems impossible for me to escape those hard-core liberal roots that discourage racist thinking and provide the foundation of how I see the world.

Curran Dhar, a graduate of Poly Prep Country Day School, transferred to NYU after two years at Gettysburg College.

Hallways of Trouble and Classrooms of Success

Hallways of Trouble and Classrooms of Success

By: Jakobi Jackson

2014-05-02-PD_0151Scene One: The Hallway of Trouble. “Hey you, I heard you were talking about me, bitch!” Mya yelled. She rushed straight to Susan and punched her in the nose. A large crowd encircled them as they scratched, kicked and punched each other. By the time security arrived ten minutes later, the hands of both girls were in each others’ weaves. They were both sent to the holding room.

Scene Two: The Classroom of Success. “Oh, really then, why do you have slaves running away or committing suicide if slavery is so positive?” Frederick Douglas says to a Southern farmer. Actually, I say that to Ian, my classmate. I am Frederick Douglas and he is the farmer in a class debate in AP US History.

“Well, those slaves are ignorant and wild, which is another reason why slavery should stay, to straighten the slaves for their bad behavior,” Ian, the Southern farmer counters.

“Alright alright that’s enough Jakobi and Ian,“ says Mr. Barry, our teacher who played President Buchanan. “Good supporting ideas and interpretation. You guys had a really heated argument.”

The bell rings and my classmates and I are going back into Scene One, the Hallway of Trouble. We may see a fight on the way. But in five minutes, we will be safe in AP Literature where we will discuss Death of a Salesman with the high level of engagement that characterized our staged debate on slavery.

My mind separates Stamford High into two schools or even two worlds: the Classroom of Success and the Hallway of Trouble. I am a full citizen of the Classroom of Success. As an African American male,  I am  a minority in this school. In all of my classes,  there are rarely more than two black students among the white and Asian majority in this school. Yet in the Hallways of trouble, I am part of the racial majority: 60 percent of the students at the school are black or Hispanic. I often feel like a foreigner in the halls and am careful not to bump into anyone or sport a facial expression that might incite someone to attack me.

There was a time when I wanted to be stereotyped as bad. In middle school and my first year in high school I always wanted to fit in the cool crew that made it to all the parties.  I even did a few things to win acceptance in that group: I wore sagging pants and disregarded my grades. I remember the moment when I truly decided that I belonged in the Classroom of Success rather than the Hallway of Trouble. I was a sophomore when I heard the cannon. “Boom.” It touched the ground blowing up soldiers on the battlefield. “We Need More Ammo,” the soldiers said in German as they ducked for cover.

I was a sophomore in a history class when we watched a documentary that explored both World War ll and the Cold War. It turned on a switch in my head that made me love history. I still can’t turn it off. I want to become a history teacher or professor. My parents had been pushing me to engage in the Classrooms of Success since I placed into top classes. They pushed me to avoid the “crabs in the bucket,” their description of the “cool” kids in the other school. However I was the one that made the decision to become a citizen of the Classroom of Success when I realized history was my passion.  Ultimately, the liveliness of the classroom drew me into that school–not my parents’ demands.

There are a total of 2,000 students at Stamford High. In my junior year, I saw how I can still easily be mistaken for a student in the Hallway Of Trouble. I misplaced the room number of the yearbook club meeting on the first meeting date.

“Hi, excuse me,” I say to a secretary in the main office

“Hi, what do you want?”  She responded with an annoyed look on her face.

“I am looking for the yearbook room, do you know the room number it would be in?”

She looks surprised. “Don’t you have class? Why are you going to the yearbook room?”

I told her I had study hall, but she refused to check the list for the room number. I wandered the halls looking in rooms for the meeting. Fortunately, I found the group and avoided any trouble in the hallway.

   The Hallway of Trouble sometimes provides the entertainment for students in the Classroom of Success. I often arrive to class early and here my classmates talking about the fight or crazy behavior they witnessed in the hallway. “Did you see that?” or “That was crazy!” Another is, “This fight was intense!”

“Wow did you see her, oh my god she is crazy.” They sometimes jokingly alter their voices in a dialect they hear in the hallway and laugh outside of the view of any members of the Hallway of Trouble. In those moments, I realize our little school may be invisible to students of the Hallway of Trouble. Unfortunately, years later, those students may wish they knew there was a school like The Classroom of Success, which is so close yet so far away from their world.

Jakobi Jackson is a graduate of Stamford High School and is currently a sophomore at American University.