I was always the quiet girl, lurking in the background of every school that I attended in my youth. I didn’t make many friends; I had terrible facial eczema, I was chubby and extremely nonverbal in social situations. However, I was always acutely aware of my surroundings. When I was in the sixth grade, I started feeling the pain of my peers; it melded with my own and weighed heavily on my spirit. I suffered in silence as they acted out and I watched as they were disciplined or discarded as troubled children with no potential.
Let me explain. My first year of middle school was comparable to Dorothy’s landing in OZ. Sixth graders were going to school drunk and high to cope with struggles that fully developed adults are unequipped to handle. I didn’t have to read up on statistics to know that kids who start using drugs that early were probably abused. I was abused too, and I empathized. I hung around with a group of girls that some may have considered a “bad crowd.” However, I learned young that there are no good kids and bad kids; there are only kids reacting individually to their circumstances at home. I think it’s about time that someone shines the spotlight on this shit from a unique perspective. I'm the right one. I've been angry about this since 2001; I'm that passionate. Thank Gods that I eventually signed out of public school and entered into an alternative diploma program because, by the time I left high school, I was beyond tired of watching the system fail my peers and witnessing the monsters that they created within them.
I have witnessed young victims of systematic racism and oppression being punished and criminalized in the public-school system instead of helped. There I said it. After Elementary school, I learned next to nothing from Providence Public Schools except the fact that they sucked. I learned from my family, friends, community, my experiences, and when I had the ability, I taught myself via the internet. I was always a smart girl, but I lost the drive to put effort into my work in a system that unapologetically fails the very people that it is built to educate and uplift.
When I was in my eighth-grade year, I was transferred to a school called Nathan Bishop. In this school, they went as far as to split the kids up into color categories. There were three colors. The “blue” class, the “green” class, and finally the “red class.” The red class was full of the “bad kids," and of course the blue class was full of the “good kids” (AKA the kids that this flawed system felt had a better chance to succeed in life). The green class was an in-between; they could go either way, I suppose. I would imagine the classifications had something to do with false measurements of potential based on academic and behavioral transcripts leading up to the eighth grade. However, I'm just some college dropout with a slight attitude problem when it comes to issues like these.
It's probably obvious that I am not one to let serious issues go, so about a year ago I decided to look through my yearbook and look up kids from both the green class and the “red class.” Unfortunately, my suspicions were on point. All the blue class students that I looked up seemed to be doing well, though one of them died in a car crash her first year in high school. You may have guessed it by now that the “red” kids seemed to be struggling to survive, criminals, or dead. I remember the bright smiles on some of their faces as they spoke to me in the hallway because I was so quiet. I remember the empathy I saw in their eyes because no matter how different we were, pain knows pain. They needed nurturing, caring, love, compassion, and some of them just needed food in their bellies. No child should be segregated from the rest of their peers because of “behavioral issues" before they even happen. The red class was treated as if they were in daycare and not their final year of middle school. I’ve spoken to youth about these issues, and it's apparent that our school system has yet to do better. Has yours? If not, let's make them. Like every other positive change needed in our society, it is up to us to fight for that change.