“I didn’t know what to do, there is so much rage building in me.”
Ariana didn’t know how to deal with the adversity she was facing at home and school; she was bullied by her classmates, her father died, her house burned down, and she was suspended* multiple times all within the same year. She was experiencing “ingrained stress” from her surroundings. Fortunately, a change in schools altered the trajectory of her life. Ariana, now a drummer in her school band at the Columbus City Preparatory School for Girls, has been able to turn her life around with the help of teachers. She credits them with guiding her toward a positive response to the challenges she faces.
*The average national suspension rate for Black girls is 13 percent, a five percent higher rate than the national average for all students, according to a 2009 study by the Civil Rights Project, “Out of School and Off Track: The Overuse of Suspensions in American Middle and High Schools.”
“Why not go to heaven now? I didn’t want to be here.”
Samaya, at age 7, was dragged out of class by her teacher after an argument with a fellow second grader. She was left outside and wandered the streets of Sacramento for at least two hours before her school notified her parents about her disappearance. This wasn’t the first time the teacher had bullied Samaya. Most students bullied by a teacher, like Samaya, don’t interpret their teacher’s disciplining them as bullying. A 2006 study, “Teachers Who Bully Students: A Hidden Trauma,” revealed that 45 percent of teachers surveyed admitted to having bullied a student. Bullying, whether by a teacher or peer, has the same impact on the bullied. Now, 12, Samaya is an honor student who excels at basketball. It’s taken years of therapy and a change of school for her to recover from the traumatic incident that led her to a bridge above a highway contemplating suicide* at the young age of 7. Luckily, Samaya’s own perseverance, the love and dedication of her family and new approaches by educators and mentors, turn her situation around.
*Suicide rates of Black girls and boys under the age of 13 is two times that of white children the same age, according to a study by Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
“I really wondered why they would treat me like this. What’s wrong with me? There must be something wrong with me.”
Emma experienced bullying in middle school by her classmates that left her depressed, angry, and with anxiety, resulting in her self-isolation. Her attitude changed, her grades dropped and she was repetitiously and unnecessarily suspended* for minor infractions. She was consistently sent to an “alternative detention” at another school furthering her seclusion. It wasn’t until she went to a new school, Columbus City Preparatory School for Girls, that concerned teachers and a principal dedicated to finding new ways of dealing with students like her, helped Emma forge a new path toward success.
*According to a 2015 study, “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected,” Black girls are six times more likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions than their white female counterparts.
“I wasn’t fighting for myself, I was fighting because I wanted to be loved.”
Kiara Jean, had been suspended from a series of schools – primarily for fighting. One day her mom had to step in and pull away a group of students that had jumped her daughter. Kiara was the one that got arrested and expelled*. Her constant in-and-out of schools left a giant gap in her educational foundation, a common characteristic for students like her. Today, with assistance from the mentors at the S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective, Kiara has found a way to deal with her anger and is on track for her high school diploma.
*Black girls make-up eight percent of all students in the United States, but are nine percent of students expelled without educational services, according to a 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), a survey of all public schools and school districts in the country.
“They gave me support, support didn’t nobody else want to give me.”
Terriana described herself as an outcast who struggled to find her way through the emotional maze of middle and high school. She wasn’t getting any support from her family nor school. With nowhere to turn, she ran away from home, and turned to the streets “in the life.” After an arrest, and some time in juvenile hall*, an assistant district attorney introduced her to EMERGE, an educational reentry program for girls with the goal to repair their relationships with school, recover credits toward a high school diploma, and facilitate their enrollment in an institution of higher education and/or permanent employment. It was there that Terriana was encouraged to find another path, from “confinement to college and career.” Today, she has a year of community college behind her and is working with the Young Women’s Freedom Center in San Francisco to help fellow Black girls succeed and not fall victim to the system.
*Black girls are 14 percent of the general population nationally, but 33.2 percent of the girls who are detained and committed in juvenile justice systems, according to a report by the YWCA, “We Deserve Safety: Ending The Criminalization of Women & Girls of Color.”