When it comes to education issues, adults often do the talking. But for one evening, New York City students led a conversation on race, poverty, and immigration status — and the impact those have on their own schools.
A new group called Teens Take Charge recently invited high school students from across the city to read their open letters about what it’s like to learn in a segregated school system. The group is working with the creators of a new podcast called The Bell, to share their stories. For now, here’s one of the letters, edited for length, presented at the “To Whom It Should Concern” open-mic event.
William, age 19, senior at Beacon High School
I will always remember my first semester in America. My English was rudimentary and I was years behind my peers. Since little help could be found at home, I searched for knowledge in a public library, my haven for learning. I spent endless hours in library aisles reading books on American history, English poetry, life science — and practicing proper pronunciation and grammar.
As I improved on my academics, I also felt a small, imaginary equality with American students, with whom I participated in the same lessons, discussions and field trips.
Now, with college decisions at the door, I have realized I can no longer blend in.
I have hidden my legal status for 11 years. For 11 years, I have lived in the shadows and let me tell you something: It hurts.
It hurts when you hear your friends telling you about their summers in the countries of their heritage, visiting family, and making wonderful memories. All you can do is listen and hide your sadness behind forged smiles because you haven’t been able to visit your family for a long time.
It hurts when you see your friends study abroad or attend enrichment programs in other countries, and you can’t because you lack the blue American passport.
It hurts when your 96-year-old great-grandmother dies an ocean away and you can’t even attend her funeral or bring flowers to her grave. It hurts.
Yet it hurts even more when a school denies you admission because you lack legal standing in the country of freedom and optimistic dreams. It hurts when you apply to more than 20 private colleges that you are qualified to attend and get a pile of rejections, few waitlists, and no acceptances. When this happens, you feel as though the plethora of opportunities you imagined when you first moved to the country have dissolved. You feel as if all your hard work has been torn to pieces.
To those of you who know me, I apologize for hiding my true self. I hope you can understand. To those who feel the same way I do, do not allow rejection to undermine your potential.