Anonymous, 9th - Oakland, CA
Not having enough money and wanting to save your beloved friend. A debt. I won’t be able to save her while she departs from me. A debt. The feeling you want to run towards the nurses and snatch her away from them. A debt. Escape from the vet, running away with her. A debt. Money, Money, they ask me if they want me to save her. A debt. “ Surgery, Surgery, If you want to save her, she will go through two surgeries”.
A debt. Back home, she would follow me everywhere, I would go to my sister to see her and play with her. A debt. I would sneak her into my room, place her next to me and cuddle with her. Or she would visit me when I woke up I would see her next to me asleep. Inviting herself on my bed made me feel happy. I wrap my arms around her, as she was so warm it made my heart warm. A debt.
She whines, in pain as the anesthesia is wearing off, “ It’s time” The veterinarian says. A debt. Hearing her whines, now she feels the needle on her leg, how painful it would feel for her that she doesn’t know what is going on. A debt. The doctor, inserting the liquid. A debt. In front of me. A debt. Eyes grew wide as she inserted all the liquid inside, looking back at her. A debt. I couldn't breathe, my chest was too tight. A debt. She moved towards her checking her heart. A debt. “ She’s gone”. A debt. I won't ever see you again, never play with you, never sleep with you, never run with you.
A debt. I need to pay to see you one more time.
If it’s possible I’ll go back in time and heal you.
Loosing you, how much it broke me taking them away from us.
Sarah, 12th- Oakland, CA
I’m American like white crosses, red blood, and blue lives.
I put the buckshot in your beef, the ball in your brain. Who was it that hushed the griot, shot Lincoln, the King and the Kennedys too?
It was me, spreading like a fire on your prairie. Manifest destiny!
Fathered by Saxons and mothered by the Anglos, raised by the colonies, devourer of pheasant, pig and partridge, boars and bobcats, hippos and lions too, oh my! Conquered King Phil but rebuked by Pontiac. I beat steel, germs beat me.
Faithfully at the side of Daniel Boone and Jesse James, America fell in love with my voice years ago. Built to kill but fun for toys: six-shooters, powder caps, I dance on screens. Johnny Appleseed might have well planted bullets because I am everywhere.
Maybe I won’t be in the news for a while, but I’ll be around. I stand my ground.
Held by panthers or knights, you can try and coerce me with fire, water, and brute force- but my favorite amendment lets me do whatever I want.
I am well-oiled, ready to go, heavy with powder, the big iron on your hip, semi automatic and rapid-fire, double-barreled, always loaded.
What’s my name? Gatling, Smith, Wesson, Remington, Koch, Heckler, Colt, Beretta?
Call me the devil, but I’m just metal and wood! Who am I talking about?
Rayven Messenger, 8th - Ashland, OR
Feet grazing the pebbles
Legs brushing through the flowers
Rose thorns giving gashes
Down your arms
Representing the heart, full of love and grief
The wildflowers are many but small
Wild Lilies are white as the sun
Veins going down the petals
Representing the innocence of death
The wildflowers are many but small
Asters purple as lavender
White as the clouds
Shaped like a star
The wildflowers are many but small
Fireweed is as pink as the sunset
Growing in fields that stretch
Far as the eye can see
The wildflowers are many but small
You belong here
Here in the flowers
Where you can be free
You are as beautiful as the flowers
You are priceless
The flowers are endless
Along with you, their spirit will live forever
Brenda L. 9th - Dublin, CA
I believe that as long as what you do in life brings you true happiness and satisfaction you are already being successful. Happiness isn't just found in relationships or jobs, but also in the ways we interact with the environment around us. Even if you feel like you don't have a clear goal or dream, just living and finding happiness in the smallest things can measure your success. Not everyone has a dream or clear finishing flag, and that's okay because as long as you live and enjoy every minute of your time in this world, you have already excelled at life.
Your self love and happiness should not rely on what others want from you and what they expect from you. If you spent your whole life just wanting to please others you will never make everyone happy and in the end you won't be happy with your own achievements if you never wanted them in the first place. No one but you knows what you are really going through and it's easy for others to judge and that's just human nature. When it starts to get out of hand is when you are truly affected by how others see you and try to change yourself and your aspirations just to ease the conscience of society and the people around you.
Whenever I'm worried or stressed about something I always remember that one day I am going to die. It could be today or tomorrow and if I do not live my life how I want then what is the point? A hundred years from now probably no one is going to remember you and just because something happened to you, the world is not going to stop spinning just because of that. Sometimes it's hard not to compare your own progress to someone else's and be disappointed in yourself or not excelling unlike the other person, but you have to remember that everyone has a different path in life.
It's important to be patient and loving to yourself. Success is not measured by anyone but you and how you choose to obtain it. It's not always about the end goal, but the process that took you there and the life experiences you gained from it. At the end of the day the people who love and respect you will be happy with whatever you choose to do in your life as long as you're not harming anyone and you are happy and satisfied. The people who harshly criticize you or have a negative impact on your life are toxic people that you should distance yourself from.
E.M. Miles, 9th - Oakland, CA
It hurts. They don’t tell you that when you go to war. They’ll tell you stories about heroes dying in the heat of battle, for their comrades, for their country. They’ll tell you how honorable it is, as if the greatest thing you could ever hope for is death, and it is, I suppose, because who are you after the war ends? What purpose do you serve, when you’re home, when the bloodshed is over?
But I’m not home. I’m here, my limbs jumbled and my blood soaking into the soft, waving gold wheat. I’m here, and I can tell you that it hurts. Or, at least, my death does. I can’t speak for the soldiers who had quick, sacrificial deaths. But bleeding out, a spear still embedded in your torso, alone and soaked in your own blood?
Well. That’s bloody painful.
Ha. Bloody. Get it?
It isn’t just the getting stabbed that hurts, although that certainly doesn’t help. You can feel the blood leaving your body, feel the life getting drawn out of you as each minute passes. Your throat itches, and every breath is ragged and shuddering. You can sense every feeble, scrambling heartbeat, and it’s as if the blood your heart squeezes out and pushes through you is sucking you dry, not keeping you alive.
It’s awful, all of it. The heavy, thick feeling of the weapon inside you. The dry, aching breaths, the blood pouring from the gaping wound in your chest. The pain, it’s awful.
But the worst of it all is knowing that you are dying.
You keep sucking the air in, knowing that it will end soon, and that this breath may be your very last, that your eyes will glaze over and the dark will close in, will blot out the sun and the sky and the wheat waving gently above you.
You wait, and you know, and it doesn’t happen. You keep dragging in shaking breaths, keep feeling. Death, with his cool, dark, flowing robes, won’t come for you and ease the pain that radiates through your body.
It’s not so bad, really. I’m on my back, and I can see the sky, endless and deep and empty. I can’t see the sun, but I can feel it on my face, warm and sweet, reminding me of my father pressing a kiss to my cheek, beard rough. Soft yellow wheat stirs at the corner of my vision, gentle and making a soft shush as they twist in the breeze.
(My right leg is twisted under my left one, and my left hand rests next to my ear, fingers curled slightly. My right palm sits on my chest. The spear, the thing that will kill me, that is killing me, that is still inside of me, was forced in just under my armpit and slammed out the other side at a downward angle.)
The sky, and the grass, and the heat remind me of Fionn, and my heart aches, it aches for him to be next to me, his thin and gentle hand to be curled in mine, his dark curls haloed by the sun. At the same time, I am relieved he is not beside me, that he is home and far away from this place of blood and pain and death.
My beautiful Fionn, my most beloved, the person I adore more than anything in the world. If he were here, he would paint this field for me. The canvas would be alive under his fingers, all waving wheat and enormous blue sky and heavy, delirious sunlight.
Tears start to clog in my eyes, hot and burning. This isn’t what I wanted. I never imagined I would be here. When they came for me, for us, in their shifting, clanging armor, telling us that any boy older than eleven was to come and fight, I thought only of Fionn, of protecting him, of keeping him from the pain and fear and blood of war. I had seen the eyes of the men in town who made it home. That empty, sightless stare. They weren’t really here. Some indelible, essential part of them was forever lost to their battle. I would sooner die than lose that part of Fionn, than look into his eyes and see them dull and devoid of everything.
So I lied. I said that he couldn’t fight, that a childhood injury had rendered him unable to walk. Take me, I told the soldier, looking up at his hulking frame, his coal-black eyes and gleaming helmet. I’ll fight for you. Take me and leave him.
While the soldiers slept, Fionn gripped my arm and looked at me with such fear that I could hardly stand it. I held his face in my hands and promised I would return to him. I pressed my lips to his forehead and smoothed the tears from his cheeks and tried to convince myself that this would not be the last time I felt his warm, soft skin on my fingers.
It hurts so much. All the pain has blurred together, and I can’t distinguish any of it. Leaving Fionn. The spear in me. The blood coursing out,, drying in the sun. The hunger, the exhaustion, the fear. Dying, dying, dying. It’s intolerable.
The sky is endless, and it’s close enough for me to reach out and touch. It feels like it could swallow me up. It’s so blue, too. How did I not see how colossal and vivid it is? The sunshine feels like a blanket, weighing me onto the earth. If it weren’t there, could I lift my arm and grab hold a piece of the sky?
Everything in me is mixed up. How long have I been here? Days? Weeks? Years? Will I be here forever, a permanent fixture of this glowing field, a sad, bloody, scrambled warning of what happens when you love too much, when you wish for happiness?
Tears have reached my ears, dripping down the side of my face and sliding into the grass. I’m sorry, my love, my Fionn. I’m sorry I wished for more than we are allowed, I’m sorry I couldn’t come home to you. I was trying to keep you safe, keep you whole, keep you mine. Black spots dance before my eyes, and in them I can almost see his face, his olive skin and gray eyes and dark curls bouncing across his forehead.
The sky is so blue, so big, so close. The heat is so soft against my skin. The yellow wheat continues to sway back and forth above me. I’m so tired.
I close my eyes one last time, and then all I can see is his face, his lovely face, smiling and golden like the grass.
Loftrún Utyard, 10th - Arlington, VA
Maybe you’re twelve or thirteen, and you think- You’re in a world where if you were are at a party-
And things went south
Someone would come pick you up.
And even if it’s dark
Or the thing that happened wasn't even that bad
There’s someone on the other end of the phone
Who cares about your well-being
And they drive you home
Only asking questions if you want questions to be asked
Look out the window at all the lights and neons
And you’re so thankful
Who will come and get you.
And maybe now
You’re fifteen or sixteen
And you're at a party- or somewhere worse
Things aren’t going good at all.
And you feel the cool, solid feel of the concrete
Beneath your legs and that dress that’s a little too short-
And you get out your phone
And call for someone
To come take you home
The first one you call doesn’t even pick up
And the second one, Tells you it’s all your fault in the first place
And you don’t have any friends
Any that drive- anyways.
So you sit there
Of the adults that are coming to get you
In a different way.
M.Antonini, 11th - New York, NY
“Big cars, weapons, fast food and Big Gulp menus are frequent.”
“In general, Americans are generous, open, and friendly, but prefer their own culture.”
“The attractive lifestyle is portrayed by Hollywood and copied around the world.”
“Talk loud and have limited knowledge of the rest of the world. Unless there is a serious conflict, then they can arrive with the cavalry with Bruce Willis in command with blazing guns and save the day.”
These are just a few of the things non-Americans I spoke to noted as identifying features of America. Many of those ideas, such as an emphasis on consumerism and self-promotion are facets of American culture that many who live in the U.S. carry with pride. But do those ideals truly represent the future that America should be striving towards?
* * *
To be an American means something different to everyone. To some, it means obstinately believing that everything dubbed to be wrong within it can be excused. To others, it means wanting it to embody a set of ideals once promised and fighting for a place they see as not only possible, but ineffably urgent. Sometimes critiquing America and the systems in place within it are met with critics, people who claim to love their country unconditionally. But is it truly loving your country if the moment it is met with criticism your first instinct is to deny it, to dream for it to stay the same, to never evolve, to never include everyone? Is it truly love if it only supports the flag, but not all the people who form the country it represents?
* * *
On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and announced their separation from Great Britain. It was a day of celebration with bells and band music, the genesis of a new beginning, a chance to become a nation that was different from where they had come from, free of tyranny and mistreatment. But that escape from tyranny and mistreatment only applied to some, and to different degrees. For others, it didn’t apply at all.
On July 4, 2020, after the murder of George Floyd on May 25 the same year, at the hands of a police officer, conversations spurred regarding racism in America, both institutionally and culturally. However, these conversations were not new. As many signs during protests read, “the same bell has been ringing since 1619, and now you choose to listen”. However, it is pertinent to not only condemn social justice issues but actively work to solve them. As Matthew Zapruder’s essay titled “A Poem for Harm” states, “A mere willingness to bring an explosive issue forward (especially one that does not directly affect you) is not the same as an actual acceptance or responsibility or even culpability.” For many white Americans, pretending problems don’t exist and hoping that they will going away simply through waiting, is a privilege. To them, ignoring the problem is easier than working to fix it, as ignorance does not require the consciousness that action would force them to possess: a resolute self-awareness. But just because a problem has never faced an individual personally, it does not mean that it is not a part of their country’s history. A full picture of history would include every detail about every person, event, place, and thought, and even if one of those things does not directly affect everyone, it is still a part of a collective history and therefore contributes to a collective responsibility to strive for fairness and equality.
* * *
I am a first-generation American. My mom and dad both were born and raised in Europe, Sweden and Italy, respectively, and moved to the U.S. in their teens to continue their studies. I spent summers with my grandmothers in Rome and Stockholm, learning about other cultures that shaped my parents and ultimately me. I am often struck by the people there, the spirit of joy that pervades nearly all aspects of life, how similar yet different it was than being home. It was always interesting to hear how people described America when I visited. When I was younger a lot of it was related to the commercial chains that developed in the cities, like McDonalds and Burger King, and the sheer size of American creations from cars to fridges. It often sounded like a combination of awe and bewilderment, but over the years, as I got older, it shifted to politics, to Trump, and to the immediate need for change. To many, and understandably so, watching American news was like watching a horror/reality TV show that for some reason never cut to a commercial break.
* * *
There is something to be said about loving your country, maybe even just liking it, but is it really love, if you don’t want it to change, to become better? Is it truly unpatriotic to teach kids in schools about the complete history of their country, even the bad parts? When you go the doctor, do you not tell them about your pain because you are worried that they will try to fix it? No, of course not, because you know that it needs to be fixed, because something is hurting, and it will only get worse if nothing is changed. There is nothing more revealing of a person’s love for their country than their wanting to make it better and continuously evolve. As novelist James Baldwin once said, “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
* * *
Johari Osayi Idusuyi, a twenty-three year old writer and student at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois, decided to attend a Trump Rally in 2015 with three friends, with the intention of listening to the Republican nominee and determining for themselves what to make of him. “We tried to take an unbiased stand,” she says, but eventually things took a drastic turn; protesters arrived at the rally inciting reactions from both the ralliers and Trump. Idusuyi notes, “I don’t think Trump handled it with grace. I thought, ‘Oh, you’re really not empathetic at all.’ That’s when the shift happened.” Unable to get up from her seat and leave due to her being placed in the stands directly behind the camera, she decided to read the book she brought with her: Citizen by Claudia Rankine. “I’m not going to waste my time listening to somebody whom I can’t respect anymore, so I started to read,” she recalls. So there she sat, peacefully reading Rankine’s book, a moving and poignantly relevant story about the reality of racism in America and the immense emotional toll it takes on black Americans. A few moments later, a couple seated behind her tapped her on the shoulder and and crassly remarked, “‘If you don’t wanna be here then leave. You didn’t even stand for the Pledge of Allegiance,’” to which Idusuyi replied, “‘Did you not just see what happened? This person disrespects women, minorities, everybody and you’re still supporting him. He’s not saying anything of substance.’”
* * *
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” declares the 1892 Pledge of Allegiance. Working towards creating liberty and justice for all is what constitutes love for a country, a love for its people. Without that hope for the future, the Pledge of Allegiance and all other American traditions cannot truly serve their purpose. If not supported by action and a willingness to affect change, these affirmations remain empty words. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, “A constitution, as important as it is, will mean nothing unless the people are yearning for liberty and freedom.”
Anonymous, 9th - Oakland, CA
Playing house sure did not work.
I hear my parents yelling at the other room
Tears stream down my little sibling’s face.
I look at the closed door in front of me.
I ask myself,
“When will this end?”
“When will we be happy?”
“Can we be a ‘Family’?”
“When will they get along?”
“Can we have a family where everyone loves each other?”
“Can I have two parents who will never yell at each other?”
“I wonder what my siblings feel”
“I wonder if they could just stop fighting pay attention to us”
My dad spending money, gambling. My mother working hard to feed us and provide us a warm home.
Some days go good some days go bad or even more damaging.
When we visit our family we put on a bright smile. Telling them we are “fine”. I keep my mouth shut not telling my cousin that my parents fought last night. I have a hard time studying thinking about my parents.
My friends don’t even know I lie to them when I tell them, “ I love my family, we all love each other”
My siblings bear the pain with me and we keep our mouths shut tight.
Not letting out a peep on what goes in our house every day.
Our dad doesn’t even come home, he stays out there god knowing what he does.
Sometimes I could tell when he is drunk, asking my mother for money knowing we don’t have enough.
Dad driving drunk with me and my siblings back home from a party, our Aunt told us to stay but the stingy old man (my dad’s friend) wanted to go home.
Music blasting load as my dad and the man continue to drink more beers. I look over my older sister looking out the window. I look at my little brother who was 3-4 years old sleeping.
I looked down, “ If I had a phone I would call my mom, “ I say.
I look out the window, cars passing slow.
The cars pass by slow.
Cars passing by Slow.
I stay still for a moment, “ we are going fast” I say.
I shut my eyes and tighten my grip on my seat belt.
“ If we get in a car crash will the seat belt save me?”
“ what about my little brother who is sleeping?”
“My older sister who is on her phone ignoring the fact that my dad and the man are drunk”
I open my eyes and see red and blue light. I turn around and look back.
Police car. I look back at my older sister, she ignores my worried face and looks away.
My brother wakes up and starts to cry,
I start to get nauseous.
They grab my father and place him inside the police car.
My mind goes blurry.
I really don’t know what it feels like to have a happy family. My friends do know that feeling and my cousin too.
I don’t feel jealous, I don’t know why.
A plastic family.
A plastic family.
A happy life?
A plastic family.
A plastic family.
Plastic family it is.
Seeing children with a happy family makes me feel happy and sad.
Us kids are suffering if parents have a fight or won’t get along.
Plastic family it is.
Sola, 10th- Oakland, CA
It feels as if the air is being stripped away from my lungs. Little by little as each breath becomes shorter and rapid. I hastily pressed the elevator button that signaled to go down over and over again. Each press throws my brain off with anxiety. I make sure to look back every few seconds to see if they have caught up. GOD! WHEN WILL THIS GODDAMN THING OPEN?! I heard the small ding and used my fingers to attempt to pry the door open. I couldn’t wait even another second to get in. As the door started to open I squeezed through mid opening. Immediately I turn around and jab the buttons randomly which I regretted almost instantly. But then, I see him. He was at the end of the hallway but his eyes could’ve been right in front of me. There would be no difference. At this point I am stabbing the button that closes the elevator door. He runs. I jump back hitting my head against the wall behind me watching as this demon of a man sprint at full force. The door started closing at slow motion compared to the speed of him. The thumping of his feet was louder than thunder. I close my eyes shut. So hard that tears I didn’t know had formed started overflowing down my face. As I slowly opened my eyes I saw a closed door and an empty elevator around me. I let out a breath that I wasn’t even aware I was holding. It still feels as if my lungs were as big water balloons, only taking short quick breaths cause it feels like they might burst. My eyes started gravitating at the mess I made with the elevator buttons. Out of the 30 floors on this building, half of the buttons for each floor was pressed making it look like a light show made by children.The next stop is floor 12. My eyes widen as the small box on the top of the door is showing the number 16 then descending to 15. My mind gets clouded with static as I watch the number 15 turn to 14 to 13. I feel the elevator slowly begin to stop as my insides start to feel like it was sinking to my toes. He can’t possibly know I’ll stop at 12 right? Right? I tip my body forward only allowing my head to peer out. I scanned the area and sure enough, he wasn’t nearby. I exhale in relief only to be met with a tap on my shoulder. His finger sent electric currents down my whole system. Every part of my body tenses up, becoming harder than a rock. My eyes are opened so wide to the point it hurts.
“ Tag! You’re it!” He laughs. I turned around and there he was. My little brother. He then leans over, wheezing so hard it sounds like he’s choking. Of course he knew the next stop would be floor 12. I forgot this building’s elevator shows the next stop on the screen above the door, even on the outside.
“ Dangit! I can’t believe you caught me again!” I shouted in an exhale. I loosen up my body and relax my shoulders. I, too, am catching my breath obnoxiously loud. “ Now that we’re done,” I pause to continue inhaling. “...playing, Mom said to meet her at the front desk so we can check-out of this hotel.”
Xioamaipu, 10th- Oakland, CA
I run all day, every day. I don't know why I run, but I know I need to keep running. Running all year round. When the sky is cold, my hand is trembling. When the sky is hot, my body feels like is on fire. I proceed running. Day after day, year after year. Countless people, plants, animals, ideas, float past.
I see the endless road ahead, and there are many roads to choose from. I'm afraid of running the wrong way, but I can't go back. I always choose the middle, because I know when I choose the middle it's not always the worst, and it's not the best. When I run forward, I'll remember some beautiful scenery. The aftertaste scenery is beautiful.
Looking for a dream is like putting out a fire. When I looked around, I realized that I was not alone. People all over the world are running forward. I know better than to only want myself. I try to make friends with the people around me because I want to make myself not lonely and want to run forward with my friends. Only a tenacious road tomorrow will be even more brilliant. Tired and used to no longer feeling. I closed my eyes and listened to the clock tick. The birds began to chirp at dawn. Even if you're crying or laughing, you're going to live with incomprehensible contradictions until you're numb.
Looking forward to a peaceful life, what should we do in the future. After thinking about it, I still don't understand. I never feel sorry for the bad things in the past. On the contrary, I feel that I have to go through it. Running, from the previous ignorant childhood, to now understand a lot of feelings. But I think I haven't run to the end. I decided to continue to run. I want to experience more interesting things, know more knowledge and to enrich myself.
"Must let oneself live splendidly" the person beside me said to me. I looked around and on the person's face hangs the smile. Now, I finally know why I keep running forward. The original so-called forward running. Doesn’t everyone have to experience continuous growth?
Students 6th-12th Grades