I grew up in East Tennessee. For some I realize you just stopped reading but if you could hang in there with me I promise you that you will understand my point. Specifically I grew up in the north part of my city. The Elementary School I went to, the Middle and High School consisted of only one African-American student whom I owe a great debt.
Out of respect I am not going to name him but I will tell you the manner in which he treated me that would ultimately change my life. When I said I went to all-white schools, I did. Except for the sixth grade. In sixth grade I went to a school that was located in the west part of my city. While there I learned about things that my senior class math teacher would try to teach us. That is how advanced the private school I went to was. Still, at the private school, there were only a handful of African American students.
The private school I went to was over a 45 minute drive from my home. It was difficult in many ways but ultimately the distance forced me to return to my locally zoned Middle School. Upon my return I immediately became known as the, “rich kid” due to the large tuition for enrollment at the private school I went to was. The Middle School had many new faces despite my hope that I would see more kids I knew from Elementary School. It turns out half of the grade school children were zoned for a different district than I was.
Immediately I got chastised. It wasn’t unbearable though. So I still made several friends. Yet a couple of my friends had very disagreeable points of view that in many ways perplexed me. The single African-American student that went to our school had a hearing and speech impairment. A couple of people whom I hung out with used to very harshly degrade him for nothing but their own entertainment.
I witnessed several occasions where they teased him when I was present. He saw me and I saw him while my friends stood there and made fun of him. He saw me stand there and he saw me do nothing. The reason I didn’t say anything was the fear of being tormented with the same animosity. It was the seventh grade and it was difficult enough to make friends being new the way I was.
This went on for quite some time. One day I was at my locker and I saw a girl who I had a crush on. She was at her locker and I decided to ask her if she wanted to go out sometime. Now this girl was beautiful and was in a clique reserved for people who had been going to school with each other since elementary school. I knew this hurt my chances but regardless of my concern I decided to be bold.
As soon as I asked her she turned towards me and smiled. When she did there was a kid, who was standing to her right, that looked at me from behind her. It wasn’t just any kid. The kid happened to be the perennial “class clown” that made everyone laugh when he would disrupt class to purposely disrespect the teacher.
When he heard me ask her he laughed and told me that she would never go out with someone like me. He told me I was a dork and that she was out of my league. She turned away from me and said nothing except say the kids name very softly as if to say, don’t be mean. Yet he continued. She walked away and I stood there staring at my locker with my head down as he continued to berate me. The explatives soon surfaced from his condescending tone. As I was only 14 the things he said really hurt.
The fact he said them in front of my crush hit me like a ton of bricks and I became winded and short of breath. I thought of all the friends I made at the private school and how I never had been made fun of. Soon my eyes started watering before I could quickly get done with my locker. The whole time saying nothing. When he saw that I had began crying he got worse.
So I slammed my locker as hard as I could. The noise echoed down the hall of classrooms. I turned and ran down and out of my wing. I turned left, then right and finally down into another wing where nobody could be seen. It was the learning resource wing. Apparently they were all having lunch but at the time I failed to notice where I was. I had hunkered down in a doorway and sat down while shoving my head down into my arms as I grasped my knees.
It must have been at least 5 minutes that I sat there when all of a sudden I felt a hand on my shoulder. It startled me and I jolted. I looked up and there he was. The African American disabled student. As I looked at him, and I remember it clearly to this day, he had this look on his face that was if to say he understood me. He couldn’t speak but rather murmured the words, “Don’t feel bad. It’ll be okay. I got you.”
Suddenly I realized that of all the people who saw me run down the hall and heard the things that were said, no one came after me. With the exception of one who saw me running away. I will not tell you his name. That moment in time has been locked up inside me now for over twenty years. I carry it around with me and I think about it from time to time.
I realize that a young, disabled and tormented child who I did nothing to help extended a kind sentiment and reassurance that everything was going to be okay. Why did he do it? I ask myself that still but then I think to myself it’s because he simply was a great person. Better than any of my friends that was for sure.
So ever since that moment I decided to not care what people thought about me. Ever since I have told myself to remember the caliber of someones kindness who exteneded himself to me when others didn’t and made me feel not so alone. The world is cruel and cold but we always have to remember that we are never alone. There are people who care and it is our duty to look out for one another.
I decided to stand up to bullys and I decided to speak my mind clearly and unapologetically. I decided to do things I wasn’t sorry for. I decided to be my own person and educate myself. To learn about as much as I could about other people while remembering that no matter how much I wanted to run and hide that I should instead be proud of the way I feel.
People may disagree but rather than children who mock and hurt the innocent we should strive to be adults who stand up against adults who act like children.