Anonymous, 9th- Oakland, CA
I don’t even know why there are people that have negative feelings towards LGBTQ. There are people who would treat them badly. They would say, ”you can’t date the same gender as you are." I say yes you can. No one can stop you dating the same gender as you.
I have been informed by my sister that there are only some countries that accept LGBTQ. I could’t believe it. There sure are homophobic people out there hating on them. Seeing a person hiding their identity, who they are, out in public is not satisfying. I want everyone to show their true Identity. Let them see who they are. We need to stop and think about what it might be like to be in their shoes and for one day, let them feel what they feel everyday. We need to show our true identity. Who we are.
We should head out of our cave right now, and count ourselves in as humans that are showing our true identity. Stop hurting yourself. You matter. I love you.
It doesn't matter who you are where you are, I love the way you are.
Show me your true Identity. Ignore those homophobic people. They are not humans.
Show me your “ true Identity”.
Brenda, 9th - Dublin, CA
I am a failure. I know I am. At my age I should already have a successful career and stability, but here I am counting every single last dime. I am useless in this society and can offer nothing. I have no talents and too many dreams to chase. My time is ticking and my youth is leaving me, but I can not bring myself to get out of bed. My body is not what it used to be and I can’t help but flinch at the disgusting creature in the mirror. “Look at those ugly scars. Go cover up that lousy fat skin of yours.”
My head is full of doubts that haunt me each night. Bright blue, yellow and red lights panic me even though they are supposed to be my friends. Medical bills stack like pancakes that are too expensive to eat. No matter where I go all I hear is “You don’t belong here. Go back to your own country.” I can’t help but wonder, what am I doing here? All I have in this life are minimum slave-like wages and judging stares that tear my mind in four. The shame is too much to endure and I am too homesick to run forth. Here I am this run down bathroom; it doesn't matter if I am thinking straight. That thought doesn’t guilt me anymore.
“Mom!” Two little feet come through the door and those bright little eyes look right through me. I can’t form any words and my uncertainty turns into tears. She understands me just through a small glance without a single word.
“I-I-I just can’t do it anymore. I am just not strong enough.” I feel her two small hands wrap around me while she starts crying in silence.
“I have no one here and besides what hope do we have here?”
“You have me. We'll make it out of here one day.”
Michaela Mizuki, 7th - Tokyo, Japan
Note: There is a mention of a suicide in this story. Please remember that If you or anyone you know is struggling, reach out to a teacher, counselor, or prevention lifeline. There is always help around.
Who are you? The question echoes back at me, mocking. Laughing. Who am I? I can’t seem to explain the colors that swirl in my head, the images that twist together and flit through my mind. When I try to explain them, the others look at me, with the same glazed-over look they always have in their eyes when they’re Not Listening. Who am I? I tuck my shirt in and watch the wrinkled paper, wondering what my answer will be. Would it be easier to respond with the wild abstractness that always beats with my heart? Would it be better to push my existence into a neat little box that everyone adores, instead of spilling over the edges? I push away the peace of paper I’ve been planning to write on for hours and sigh. My sweat has stained it severely. The blank page, at first glance, seems empty and full of nothing interesting. But I know the thoughts and possibilities of what could have been written there are still there, in another future. This one page has a million different pieces of writing in it, and what I choose to write will be one of them. I take a deep breath, then put my pen to paper. Swirls dance across the page, and they spell out a name:
My existence is the glitch in the universe. I cannot be pinned in a name.
I cannot be pinned in a name.
The words I’ve been waiting for so long leaves me relieved and disappointed at the same time. Bittersweet. I wonder what I would’ve written, if the words had appeared on her paper. But it was on mine first. I tuck the paper into my folder, smiling, and hide it under my pillow. Not very convenient, I know, but being an only child and a book worm has taught me to shut people out in such a way that they don’t notice at all. I wonder what I’ve missed out on, what I could’ve had, if I hadn’t kept such close walls around my heart. Somehow, after all these years, someone had found my stash of pages from my diary, hidden in an alcove of roots under the willow tree no one cares about. And then, on a sweet Autumn morning, her reply had come.
Why can’t you see your own future, if you’re the one that makes it? You are a collection of memories and thoughts and feelings, and you can make your own future. You are never in the past, but you are always in the past. You are always living and you are always dying.
How anyone had found it, I was clueless, but I had considered the letter. Somehow, the peculiar questions were stuck inside my brain, the ones I’d wondered but kept to myself, because everyone began shutting me out when I asked them, or gave me weird looks. I learned to blend in. Lose emotion. Stop following the instincts I’d loved as a child. The words left an imprint on my thoughts for a week before I left a note back, just to see what would happen.
I can’t be explained. The future is so chaotic I can’t find my place in it. What is a feeling like?
And then, a few days later, they responded. For some reason, when I got a letter, my mouth would move ever so slightly upwards and my feet skimmed the floor. What was this? The first letter had come three months ago. Since then, my ventures to the library had become more infrequent as I carefully recorded my answers to the letters in silence, in my small room at the end of the dingy hallway that looked exactly the same as the twenty-three others. Here was the new routine after breakfast. The incorrigible bell would ring, slow and monotonous, and the orphanage manager’s head, perfectly in sync with the noise, followed it around the corner to the doorway to my room. Shooting me a vexed look, she clicked her tongue and motioned to me. I forced my mouth not to twist in the sour line that it wanted to. Why couldn’t Ms. Vexnaw, just once, let me disregard the clock?
Pulling my rucksack over my shoulder, I sprint down the hallway, and managed to catch the watery-gray bus that was stained with the same smell of boredom that somehow seeped into everything in my neighborhood. Welcome to the place you should probably never come, and join us in the everyday activity of Acting Like We Have No Brains At All. Which is being fulfilled right now, actually. Everyone’s incessant blank stare out the windows is unappealing and bordering on unsettling, and I slip my hand in my bag for a book, retrieving a worn-out cover of Call Of The Wild . As my eyes brush the first few pages, a light voice enters my ears. “Hi, have zombies infiltrated Earth?” A strange question, and it takes me a moment to realize it’s directed at me.
I flinch backwards, looking up from my book. I hear a few snickers. The Shock Effect, as everyone’s so kindly named it, is how I react when someone bothers to speak to me. Whenever someone calls my name, I automatically flinch and look like someone’s slapped me; additionally, when I find no one has and someone actually simply wants to talk to me I look shocked. I’m not sure when the Shock Effect began, all I know is I started around the end of last year. I find pale gray eyes fastened on mine, and I avert my eyes uncomfortably. I’ve never been one for eye contact. “Sorry?”
“The apocalypse,” the girl says patiently. “Is it here yet?” I shrug.
“Sorry, but you’re asking the wrong person. But if I had to make a guess, I’d say no, from the lack of deaths. Not today, at least,” I say. “Always could happen anytime, though.” She gives me a faint smile before leaving.
I’ve never wanted to think much about how much I rely on them, the letters under the willow. There’s freedom in anonymity- freedom in knowing you will not be pinned to your actions. More than that, the notes I receive are open. The questions I ask are actually considered, instead of having the ready-made answers shot back at me. Because even though they do matter, the opinions of others have never made solid dents in me. I grew used to the strange quirks of society, and while society didn’t accept me, they tolerated me, like a weird growth on an evergreen tree that stretched up to the heavens. Clinging on. Barely there, but still there. That was the difference. There was dead and nearly dead. Failed and nearly failed. The few things that changed which ones changed everything.
Because whenever there is a suicide broadcasted on the news, or the tearful face of a peer who can’t handle her life anymore, I know in my heart the distance between that person and me is too small to bear. The letters are a distraction. The letters are a drug. When my family forgets about my existence, the letters are all I have.
So I’ve never cared much about others, too immersed in my thoughts. But when I reveal my dreams, my soul, to this person I have never met except through our letters, I am basking in anonymity. I could be vulnerable. I could reveal the things I did to my friend that still plague me with guilt at night. But not only that, I am connected most to the one person I will never meet, whose words are tinged with laughter and every added thought weighted with insightfulness. Because I’ve never cared much about others. But I do so very much care about what They say- what new words will touch my heart at the end of a long day.
Am I a bad person?
You made a mistake. But you’ll never be bad to me.
You’ll never be bad to me.
The letters have been coming for a long, long time. Longer than I care to remember. I still remember brushing aside the pale roots of the tree, trying not to smile, then feeling the crinkle of paper against my hand. Seeing the elegantly sprawled writing, painting worlds that I could never have begun to imagine. I had replied, half out of madness and half out of sheer curiosity. It had started from there. I have never spoken of them to everyone. They are precious to me- precious in such a way that I cannot manage to force their existence into words. They are merely a presence in my life that drapes itself around me like a cool, soothing blanket. I do not want to know who is on the other end of the line. I do not want to think about the day I will have to move and will never see them again.
As I cross the street, my mouth curves in a smile as I think of the latest note they’d left me- a neatly folded pink post-it. We have an unofficial system now. When one of us has a note to put down, we put it down after nine at night. The one who put the note keeps away for the next week until the other finds it. It could be strange, wholly trusting we will both follow our traditions. But we do. “Hey!” a voice calls from across the street. I look up to see a bright smile and a pair of sparkling eyes to accompany it. “We’ll be late for school!” Automatically, I feel the corners of my mouth twitching downwards, then hurry to pull them back up. Already, something is pressing down on my shoulders. The weight of empty friendship stretches between us, wide and yawning. Awkward conversations and half-finished sentences. It’s not her fault, I remind myself. Stuffing the letters in my pockets, I race to get to her before the light blinks red. And then my foot twists on the smooth pavement.
When my hand plunges, yet again, into the knotted hole, it comes up empty. Nothing. I swallow tears of frustration. Why isn’t there anything? I clench the crumpled scrap of blue-and-white paper in my hand, staring at the willow. For a long time, her last response is the one that echoes in my mind. As I lay awake at night, as I slip away during a playdate, as I’m staring out the bus window on the way to school. Over time, I take her notes with me everywhere. And finally, one day, I find it. The goodbye. As I’m walking along a row of smooth chipped stones, I see a piece of red-lined white paper, fluttering in the wind, penned to the smooth rock it sits on. There’s one sentence on it.
If there was one thing in the universe that made my life better, it was your letters from the tree. Carved on the gravestone, jagged and thin, is her name: Maria Davis, 2003-2019.
I’m not sure how many more times I visit the gravestone before I have the courage to do it. The letters, shredded into thousands of tiny scraps, dance in the air as I let them go. For the first time in ages, I’m not thinking about the next letter and the distraction it will give me. The encouragement it will give me, or the courage to go on. I am no longer leaning on her letters. They will always stay with me, but they do not make me. As I leave the cemetery, I see a willow tree’s branch, fluttering in the wind.
anonymous writer, 9th - Oakland, CA
Being a daughter of an immigrant is no fun. What I mean is that people look down on us. Most of my classmates have parents that are also immigrants. We suffer so much, though I see there is no change being made in accepting immigrants. They leave their home to come to the United States to have a better life for their children. While crossing the border they have to go through a dessert, mountains and oceans.
Most people expect to have a good life in the United States. But my life…? I'm truly grateful that I was born here but the United States is cruel. Better life? Those words don't exist in me. Better life by coming to the United States? What we really get is working 24/7 so that they can give their children something to fill up their stomaches. Their children are also looked down upon, just because they were born by immigrants. Being an American Citizen must be nice, and not having these concerns because their families are also citizens.
Most teenagers have to work to help their parents pay the bills and the rent. That is our life. We don't have freedom so at least we have traditions.
American citizens have to know that by supporting ——, he may kick us out. However, we are all the same. It does not matter the color, height, race and languages. We are all welcome, papers are just papers, nothing special about it. I say we are all the same, there is nothing different about us. I say we are all immigrants, by coming and taking over the the Native Americans' territory.
I really hate the United history.
A. Hernandez, 9th - Oakland, CA
I am from the paintings that cover my home
The soft acrylic layering over a canvas
From the swans that hover over me and the tiger who protects me
The flowers that wrap around the doorway
And the bunny blanket where I knew I was safe
It was soft to the touch- like a real bunny
I am from the princess lamp in my living room
that reflects a shadow of my childhood
I am from a candle lit room
With aromas of wild flower
Smells like I’m outside, even when we have to stay inside
I am from the strawberry wrapped candies we see all around the house
They’re so sweet to the taste
Where do they all come from? Comes to mind
I am from a diverse neighborhood
We’re so different, yet so connected
Where the corner store brings us together
A memorized playlist we all hear over a radio
Even during the roughest times
I am from the nostalgia of a better time
Seoyoung L., 12th - Millburn, NJ
Emma held the baby closer to her heart as the winds grew stronger and raindrops intruded through the unstable umbrella. She wrapped her flimsy coat around Mia tightly, willing to transmit any heat she could spare. Or maybe she was just doing it to huddle closer to a source of warmth; Emma had always been a selfish girl.
During her thirty-minute trip to this alleyway, Emma had encountered so many people in the bus and on the streets. If she had been herself a year ago, dressed in a neat school uniform and giggling with her group of friends, she would’ve not even noticed the people sitting around her. They would not notice her. But with this thing inside her arms, people’s indifference glimpses transformed into disapproving and pitying glances.
“Look there mama, a baby,” a little girl sitting across from Emma pointed.
Emma instinctively tugged Mia closer into her breast and lowered her head, wanting to disappear into the scratchy fabric of the seats.
“Look away,” the mother tugged down the little girl’s arm and whispered, “That’s what happens when you stop studying and start hanging out with boys.”
The bus had reached her stop. Emma’s thin legs wobbled under the weight of her baby and the weight of the chilly air cinching around her skin. She struggled to balance a tottering umbrella on the crook of her neck and embrace Mia protectively at the same time.
“Do you want me to hold your baby for you?” A man had asked when he noticed her struggling to lift her umbrella.
Instinctively, Emma had paled and backed away from the generous offer, shaking her head violently and strengthening the grip on the warm body.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the man seemed to be offended as he walked away, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
But it wasn’t the man that scared Emma. It was herself. She was afraid that if the man touched the baby, he would know what Emma was thinking-- going to an alleyway, dropping her sleeping baby inside a plastic box, and closing the lid. He would be disgusted at her. But the words of the man, short and sweet, had ignited a transient warmth inside her stomach. That was the second match lit. But when the man walked away, it created a gust of wind that blew out the warmth in an instant.
Emma stared at the man’s back, remembering when the first match was lit. She was with Harry. Harry’s eyes were the waters of the lake, and his voice was the steady splashes of water calling out into a peaceful night. When she was with him, she felt serene like she was on a calm rowboat, relishing his voice, flesh, and bones encircling her form. When he made love to her, she felt like she could trust him; she could sit back, close her eyes, and let his waves carry her to a beautiful place.
“I’m pregnant,” Emma whispered.
Harry’s eyes were shadowed as if a whale intruded into his pristine lake. But he soon recovered. He let Emma fall into his strong arms and smiled calmly. His warm palms rubbed her stomach, and he began to whisper the familiar steady splashes again. He put her in his rowboat.
“We’ll get through this together,” he said, lighting the first match inside Emma.
When Emma went to school the next day, Harry’s family had moved away.
The red bricks of the building were fading into a color of brownish mud. Old help wanted posters, torn from the rain, clung onto the walls with glue and gum. To Emma’s relief, nobody was there, except for some ugly potted plants and a delivery truck parked in front of the building. Emma hurried into the alleyway and to the sign, The Baby Box. The plastic box was placed inside the wall with two hatch doors that could be opened from the inside and the outside.
Emma carefully took out Mia from her arms and kissed the warm cheek. The girl stirred, clenching her eyes in distress. For months Mia and she shared the same life and the same breath. She was what kept Emma alive like a piece of her heart or her lungs. Emma slid open the small door and pushed the small creature inside.
“I’m so selfish...I’m so selfish…”
The muscles of her face started to tremble and a stinging sensation shot up her nose. Emma could almost imagine herself on a rowboat with Harry and her girl, riding the mild waves of the lake. But absentminded sailors do not prepare well for the tumultuous storm. And when the turbulence smashed the boat, Harry abandoned them to drown. And now, she was doing the same to Mia.
Emma closed the door shut, and a loud bell rang from the inside of the building. Ding! Frightened, she dropped her umbrella onto the cement floor and started to run out the alleyway. Sweet raindrops swam down her face mixed with sweat and tears. Rivulets streaked down her body and dirtied her shirt and soaked her shoes.
When Emma heard the voice from the building, she turned around. A middle-aged woman had swung open the door, hair disheveled and face bloated. She was bent down over a small baby, feeding it a bottle of infant formula. Another baby was strapped to her back with an intricately-tied piece of clothing that had old coffee stains. She looked silly, trying to rock one baby and feed another.
“Miss, what’s her name?”
“I...I…” Emma wanted to flee the scene, “I...I don’t know. She’s not...she’s not mine anymore.”
“What’s her name?” The woman’s voice grew softer, as if she was calming a crying child. A young, distressed child. The young girl peered into the woman’s eyes. A small flickering light was ignited inside Emma’s chest and started to grow. It blazed wilder and hotter until her whole body was engulfed with flames, and she couldn’t notice the chilly wind.
The final match was lit.
The baby box (or the baby hatch in the U.S) is where a struggling parent can place their baby to be taken care of. Parents don’t go there to abandon their babies, they go to save them.
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.
Students 6th-12th Grades