Naren, 6th - Stamford, CT
Life is precious
People are equal
Treat with kindness
To make this world a better place.
Life is like a river
Flowing from its highest peak
Sometimes it's rough and rocky
But changes course to a calm lake
Life is like a rollercoaster
The ride goes up, and down
It might be shaky so hold on tight
You will always get a landing that is right
Life is like a tree
Useful in many ways
Not taken care of
Will fall and wither away
Life is like a journey
The travel seems interesting
Which teaches us values
While social distancing
Don’t lose hope
In this hard time of need
Things will get better indeed
Daisy A. 12th - Oakland, CA
In Audre Lorde’s essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language,” Lorde analyzes the concept of the power one’s voice holds and the repercussions associated with one’s voice being taken away. Lorde argues that breaking silence and helping free the voices of those who have been oppressed and marginalized by society is the responsibility we hold as an interconnected community. Alice Walker’s essay “Am I Blue” describes how we are all interconnected through a horse that represents the oppressed groups/people in our world. Walker uses this metaphor to convey to her readers that we should all treat each other as equals because we are all human. Walker fights for equality, and Lorde fights for an outlet to accomplish this, our voice. Lorde writes that “your silence will not protect you.” Lorde is opposed to keeping ourselves trapped in a box where we are incapable of speaking our mind and our truth.
Throughout Lorde’s essay, we see this view on silence being explained more thoroughly: “the words of women are crying to be heard, we must each of us recognize our responsibility to seek those words out.” Lorde explains how women are marginalized by society because they are perceived to be inferior to men. Women stay silent out of fear of being judged by men. Lorde uses “in the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear [. . .] fear of [. . .] judgment” to convey this to us. Women are forced to live in silence out of fear, unable to say or express their true feelings. This is demonstrated in Jamaica Kincaid’s short story titled “Girl” which is about a mother preparing a girl for society’s expectations and the consequences if she doesn’t live up to them. Kincaid writes, “this is how to behave in the presence of men who don't know you very well, and this way they won't recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming.” Through her writing, Kincaid demonstrates how the actions women take and their behavior needs to be approved by a man. If women do something men don’t like, they are labeled “slut[s].” Women are forced to live in silence and limit themselves due to the fear of how men might respond.
Lorde believes it is our responsibility to break the silence women live in and let them out of the box they have been trapped in. We are connected to these marginalized groups and individuals through our very being; we are all human. People seem to forget this when they pay more attention to the barriers that separate us, but we are all interconnected.
“Treat others the way you would want to be treated.” This is a saying most children are told when they begin to learn empathy. Walker’s main message is that we should treat others with empathy, and Lorde agrees with this. Lorde believes that empathy will allow us to feel like those who are voiceless, and with this feeling in mind, we will help them find the confidence to use their voice. As children, we learn about empathy and oftentimes practice it, but as we grow older we forget it. As adults, we are independent. We have nobody to guide us in what is right or wrong. All we have is our values and beliefs, and it is a struggle to defend them when they are challenged. Lorde reminds us of this throughout her essay. She ends this text, leaving us with this last statement: “there are many silences to be broken” reminding us that it is our responsibility to break them. We must bring a counter narrative to our society.
B.Loza, 9th - San Ramon, CA
Luis was patiently waiting for the day when his life would turn for the better. Everyday he lost little by little, but he never lost hope. There was no point of holding on to the past, but how could he not. It seemed like just yesterday he had been a young man. That spark in his eyes had vanished and each day he felt his hours tic on by; wasted. He felt numb, confused, but not lost. He had found his purpose a long time ago on the night his mother had died. Only one word stood up to him on that fateful night. Regret. He could have said “sorry” and told her that he loved her with all his heart, but he didn’t. Whatever the reason he only cried and held her hand as the sun dawned. He remained speechless as he felt the warmth of her body leave slowly after dark.
All of these demons and thoughts were so overwhelming and complex that it would cause a contradiction in a large crowd until it tore apart, and yet all of it was crumpled up in his head. A poor lonely vessel like many others walking down and up the streets. So many emotions, and yet no one could feel them. So many pleas and screams of desperation, and yet no one could hear them. No one noticed.
In the end Luis just kept waiting and waiting. He waited for good news or perhaps for a miracle to happen. After all it wasn’t him who needed to change. In his mind he had always been a good man; free of malice. Always the victim. All he needed to do was stand still and let the world reward him for his suffering. It was only fair for the world to repay its debt to him. As the sky turned dark and quietness settled, Luis pocketed the change in his worn out hat and laid his head against the hard cold floor, hoping.
Sarah, 12th - Oakland, CA
“I love teaching and I love you, but I just can’t do this anymore” has become the official marker for summer at my California public charter school, Oakland School for the Arts. This is the premise of goodbye notes and speeches from teachers who leave at the end of each school year, or, often in the middle of it. This March, after my new English teacher, Mr. T, announced that he wouldn’t be returning for the rest of the year, I felt sadness, but I felt an even deeper twinge of deja vu. Didn’t he just replace Mr. R, who said something similar? And wasn’t that the case with my last two English teachers, Ms. B and Mr. C? My thoughts quickly went towards how many teachers I’ve lost in high school.
I am a junior and eight out of eleven, or about 66%, of the academic teachers I’ve had in high school have left. To paint a more striking picture, I can count the number of my teachers who have stayed at my school on one hand. To count my teachers of color who have stayed, I don’t even need a hand: just one finger.
My amazing 10th grade English teacher Mr. Chazaro wrote about this dearth, specifically on why men of color are leaving the classroom. He notes how an ABC News report found teaching to be the fourth most stressful job in the U.S, but living and teaching in a city like Oakland means teachers must deal with a contemptuously low salary while dealing with one of the highest costs of living in the nation. As similarly highlighted by the New York Times back in 2001, low wages and poor working conditions are to blame for poor teacher retention. However, looking at the present, it is clear that we have crossed over from retention issues into attrition.
It’s not a mystery to me that teachers keep leaving. What is puzzling to me is why people aren’t more collectively concerned about this. After all, isn’t a student’s loss a society’s loss? As significant reform can be expected to emerge from a national and global crisis, we can expect huge changes coming in the United States. We cannot forget about our education system.
Besides the disruption and sadness of saying goodbye, what is lost feels less tangible: feeling known and secure, continuity in learning, and school culture are all things that disappear along with teachers. School is a place for many students to imagine the world and their place in it. Teachers are our guides in a sense, and I, for one, feel lost without them.
Leifire Danasdaugher, 10th - Arlington, VA
The silence was broken as words were spoken
Too many lives had been lost this way.
For words kept in can keep your safety
For many, many days.
The loss of speech
Had left none to preach
Except for the queen of spades.
Who lost her tongue,
Under the rug
Of the donkey who always brayed.
If words could never hurt you
Than this story would not be true.
To kings with knives only death would suffice,
And your life is a price to pay.
The lack of sound pained some
Although some ears had just gone numb.
And most would tell you it’s dumb
To look at the land and stay.
It is hard to remove the sound from a world
As you may have heard.
Yes, each one you make
None as precious as the word.
Run'or 10th- Antioch, CA
Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Natasha McKenna, Koryn Gaines, Atatiana Jefferson, Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Do any of those names ring a bell? Hmm… probably not. Well, they do to me. These are the names of black women & girls who have been killed by the police.
On March 13, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, was fatally shot and killed by three police officers during a raid inside her own home. Yep, that’s right, she wasn’t even safe inside her own home. The fact that the three officers who barged in her home and took her life remain free is mind-boggling. I truly can’t say I’m surprised. When George Floyd was killed in May, there was an immediate outrage and outcry from America and the rest of the world. Breonna was tragically murdered in March, yet there was only an outcry from black women for justice. Nobody listened.
It wasn’t until this past summer while BLM activists protested over the killing of George Floyd that Breonna’s name was mentioned, but only as an afterthought. I’m sad to say that if black women did not fight for Breonna to be acknowledged, she would have been forgotten just like other black women. The reactions from the black community, BLM organization, and the rest of America were not the same at all.
Black lives seem to only matter when it comes to black men. Black women created BLM, the #MeToo movement, and helped to propel the Civil Rights Movement. Recently, the shooting of Jacob Blake has sparked protests around the country. Why does it take black men to be the tipping point? Black lives mattering should include all of us and not just a certain demographic. In no way am I comparing George and Breonna’s death, which were both horrendous, but instead the reactions. All us black women are asking, is that when we are hurt or torn down, you’ll stand in solidarity with us. Include Breonna in the fight for social and racial justice and the countless black women who’ve been killed by police brutality. So, I ask you: please say her name.
Ruby L., 12th- Sunnyvale, CA
My eyelids are shades of blue from the inside out
And my collarbones ache from carrying the weight of my shoulders.
My neck is criss-crossed with green lines from necklaces I didn’t take off
Just to have something to twist, someplace to preserve my thumbprint.
My head swims with night air, intoxicating and berry-black, sweet and sharp.
I could take it gulp by gulp and still be on my knees for more,
Though the bruises on my legs have faded now that I don’t know who to pray to--
Though I ask Persephone for a favor: find me a pomegranate, give me something to make me want to
Stay in my brick-and-mortar Elysium.
I’d leave if I could, but I know I’d never let myself, sunk down into grey reluctance
Hands up, reaching for a star-lit ceiling.
The water in my veins is tugging me to the ocean, vertebrae cracking, and I shudder,
Maybe to relieve the pressure in my chest, maybe to shake myself awake.
Nothing quite compares to the feeling of breathing through an open window
As rain pounds the pavement outside, mouth-watering and silver, not quite melancholy.
I chase that feeling, ignoring pebbles pressed deep into the soles of my feet.
I let my eyes close, let my hair whip and knot as I run
Putting on a show for nobody, convincing the curves of my mouth that they just want attention.
I let my throat ache, raw and red with days-old hunger for anywhere but here.
I sit on a park bench that gives me splinters but lets me rest for a minute
And I wonder
Do I never want to grow old, or
Do I just want to live in the faraway world I created
For the self I thought my youth would let me be?
emoney, 9th - Oakland, CA
My mind swirled as it filled with questions. “Grandma did you live there?” “Did my dad live there?” “Hush now child” said my Grandma as she tucked me into bed. “Hush now child as I tell of our past. We were taken from our land stolen like jewels. Tucked into the bottom of ships. Maybe never to be returned.”
“What happened to the people Grandma, where did they go?”
“If you let me I will tell you through their story we will go. They swayed to and fro, with barely any food and water. They were chained like criminals but they hadn’t done anything wrong. And once they were finally taken out to see the light they were sold. Like pieces of paper we were passed around.”
“Grandma who would do this to us?”
“Bad people… sometimes people do things they don’t mean, they do them because they think they have too, they do them because they don’t understand. They didn’t understand the hard working nature of our culture so they decided to take advantage of that. They made us their slaves and forced us to work.”
“Grandma why did they hurt us… why did they hate us?”
“Child, they hurt us because they were hurt themselves. They didn’t know how to handle it so they hurt other people. They didn’t hate us. They just didn’t understand us. We were different and they didn’t like that so they decided to take us. Because they figured we would change if we were surrounded by their culture.”
“Did we change Grandma?”
“Yes child we did. We worked harder than we did before. But we changed. Our culture stayed with us but it was changed too. We prayed to God for freedom for deliverance from these men but it seemed God didn’t hear our prayers. We kept waiting and waiting but it seemed freedom never came. Some people stopped trusting the lord. They started believing that they were worth nothing but a slave that they were born into this world to pick cotton. But we are so much more. You my child will be so much more. You’ll be my Doctor or my Lawyer you’ll be my pride you’ll be our future. You are so much more than a slave on a plantation. You are hardworking you’ll prove these people wrong. You my child are the greatest jewel in the world.”
Ella L. 10th - Sea Girt, NJ
My favorite color is blue. It is survival, and it is death. Wrapped in a pretty bow that can just as easily be cut to reveal everything hidden inside. It is tears that fall on already wet cheeks. It is the stormy sky, and blueberries in the summertime, and frozen rivers that crack underneath heavy feet. Blue is both everything and nothing at all. It is emptiness, sadness, and it is beautiful.
She told me to close my eyes. To listen to her voice, to imagine that it was only us two in this world of millions. She told me to imagine the ocean. The slow churn of the tide and the crash of waves striking against wet sand. To imagine us, together, laid out on the golden tones of the California beaches, letting the sea carry our worries away. For the first time in months, I was at peace. And when I opened my eyes once again, so was she.
The tears silently streamed steadily, flowing as if it was a race to see who could drop off the edge of my chin first. I sniffled silently, as if I was trying not to wake her even though she would never be woken. Her eyes were already closed, so there was no need for that big tv drama of the grieving person slowly closing the eyelids of the loved one. I took her hand in mine, not yet cold, but not radiating it’s warmth that comforted me, time after time.
It was her time to go, I have known for months. It is like when the doctor gives you a shot as a child. You know it is going to hurt, and you try to put on a brave face, but the pain still comes even though you did everything you could to stop it.
My heart is bleeding now, punctured by so many needles that nothing can help. At some point, they may heal, but for now the ache drives a pain through my body like I have never felt before. I grasp her hand desperately, shaking and calling her name over and over. I scream until my jaw hurts, and my voice goes hoarse. The last thing I remember is her sapphire ring and blue highlights and my father carrying me out the door. That was the last time I ever saw her.
My mother always said to be brave. I do not feel brave right now. I feel missing, lost, like a part of my heart has been turned to ashes and scattered into the ocean with the rest of her. I don’t know. Someday, maybe I will be alright again, but I will never be whole.
Every year on her birthday, we throw a party. It is supposed to be about celebrating everything about her life.
I used to hate it.
The first year, I refused to go, only to be dragged along by my father and three brothers whose only motivation to be in attendance was to make me angry that even they were going. The thought of such a “celebration” was horrific. It seemed as if someone was going to cut my heart out and place it on display, with all of the bruises, broken pieces, and vulnerabilities out for everyone to see. I thought it would make me lost again, thrust back into the whirlpool of emotions I fought so hard to escape from.
After she died, I spent weeks hiding out in my room, in isolation. With curtains drawn, and light shut out. I knew she wouldn’t want it, but everything reminded me of her. Everything still had her smell. Her soap was still in the shower, her clothes were still in her closet, and all of the little orange bottles of medication still racked the shelves. It was stupid, but it all broke my heart.
Only about a month later did I finally begin to heal. My eyes no longer puffy from crying myself to sleep, or voice hoarse from screaming into my pillow. As the doctors said, I was moving into the next stage of grief. They said I was finally beginning to accept what had happened.
While that was true, there was still a fear embedded into me that one day I would slip back into the suffering. The pain. It had all been too much to handle, and I don’t know if I could survive it all again.
The party terrified me, I didn’t like talking about her in the first place, let alone have an entire event about it. It wasn’t awful though, and I agreed to come back each year - to celebrate the life of my mother.
This year, it’s special. It has been five years since her death, and so I have been asked to give a speech. I dress in blue, her favorite color, with my hair tied around my head in an elegant bun. There are more people here tonight than usual, which terrifies me. My hands shake, and my breath comes out ragged, but I walk up to the podium that stands before everyone and put on the same brave face that I do every year.
I look out to the people - there are so many of them. I feel a little guilty for being afraid, this is for my mother, not me. I should not be in fear to please anyone but her, and I hope that I will.
“Thank you all for coming. Tonight’s turnout is remarkable,” I begin, my voice shaking only slightly.
“My mother’s favorite color was blue. Anyone who had the pleasure of being friends with her would know this,” I direct my gaze on each of the faces I have come to know so well over these past few years. The ones who grieved with me, and felt the pain alongside me.
“She loved the diversity of it, all of the varieties of wonders and horrors it could represent. It could mean so many things to so many different people. How it is the stormy sky, and blueberries in the summertime, and frozen rivers that crack underneath heavy feet. She loved how blue is both everything and nothing at all. It is emptiness, and sadness, and it is beautiful.”
“She taught me this, among so many other things, that colors are the language of the Earth. To her, life was an opportunity to explore this planet that we have been given, and the people that inhabit it. After she died, my father gave me this letter that she had left to me. I think it’s worth hearing for all of us.” I sniffle as I pull the folded paper out of my pocket, opening it to read.
“She said, ‘Dear Lizzie, sometimes you may find that the future is scary. It is stressful to think about. You will find yourself facing questions about colleges, jobs, money, and cities. But, a lot of the time we all forget to think about the most important question. What kind of person do you, my little girl, want to be at the end of all of this? What experiences do you want to have? Because if the entire world was wiped, no more businesses, technology, money, or products, and all you had was you, yourself, and your memories, would you be satisfied? This is my advice to you, my girl: never, ever let your life become so materialistic that your entire world can be taken from you in a single swipe. There is so much out there to explore, but many of us never seem to go looking for adventure. Take advantage of your life while you have it. I love you, always.’”
I look out at the people before me as I say this, “As a gift to her, to honor her memory, we all should try to live our lives with a little bit more purpose. To honor the person we are, and lives that all of us are blessed to have, because not everyone wakes up in the morning.”
I look out to the crowd before me, making eye contact with my dad and brothers in the front row. I nod my head towards the sky, hoping she can hear me, “To my mother, and everything that she was and always will be.”
K.Sulllivan, 12th - Morgan Hill, CA
she is the picture of poised perfection;
head in a book, heart on her sleeve.
And in a world
where everyone lives a curated narrative -
the lock to a box
that was determined by mutations long ago,
hers should be the Odyssey.
So, why does her soul sing the Iliad?
Well, she’s torn;
trapped in a seventeen-year battle
at the cellular level;
two imperialist nations
playing battle royale
in the same double helix.
And now the chaos within -
a once carefully guarded secret,
is threatening to leak to the surface;
to amplify the scrutiny they cast her way -
the whispers from corners of inflexible minds
that slip into backhanded compliments.
“She’s Asian - look at her.
With thick, black hair,
a slim frame and focused eyes,
she's ambition and dedication,
quick-wit and resilience.
She's the product of centuries of civilization,
but a stranger to culture.
She looks the part but speaks the wrong tongue,
answers to the wrong name,
and values the wrong things.
she spends her Saturdays at photoshoots
not Chinese school;
she plays Taylor Swift CDs
not the piano;
and she wants to teach,
to treat atrophic minds with knowledge and assurance,
“Well, she could be white - look again.
With freckles adorning fair skin,
expressive eyebrows and a flushed face,
she's innocence and pride,
hope and passion.
She's the cheer captain and vegetarian.
Does it get more American than that?
But, she's too cultured;
gets the grade too easily,
parties too little,
and achieves too much.
she eats dim sum
not Panda Express;
she gets red envelopes
not birthday cards;
and she wants to be the President,
to make decisions and lead by example,
not be the First Lady.”
So when the time comes to settle in a box,
which will fit?
Both communities welcome her
with open arms
but shoulders drawn;
that doesn't quite reach the eyes.
The answer seems obvious ... she can be both!
But is such a thing graciously accepted?
It would be like having eggnog on Halloween,
or rather dumplings on the Fourth of July.
And how can eons of silence and exploitation and conflict
spitelessly coexist without collective sacrifice?
the sun rises
and the world turns,
and she is still ambition and dedication,
quick-wit and resilience,
innocence and pride,
hope and passion
and million other things.
So, could it be
that the dark hair and sun-kissed skin
aren’t indicators of identity,
but signifiers of stereotypes
so deeply embedded in both cultures
that it shares the very veins pumping to her heart
and threatens to alter the rhythm?
And what if,
after longs nights of tough talks,
she can find it within herself
to rest the spike in the tracks
and raise the hammer;
to allow a history of oppression and privilege
to point fingers and shake hands and work in harmony
to build a world where little dreamers
can’t believe for a second
that their hair or skin or aspirations
will dilute the magic coursing through their veins,
or allow others to judge their story
before they even pick up a pen.
Students 6th-12th Grades