Healing Invisible Wounds This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   I clearly remember the day my face dropped from its position of confidence to stare at my feet in great shame. I awoke to a beautiful Monday morning believing it would be a wonderful day. I met my best friend at our usual place and we began walking to school. Halfway there, a terrible feeling seized my stomach and beckoned my attention toward a speeding car. As the car approached us, it slowed and a white male, obviously a high school student, stuck his head out the window and stared at me. Several other white males were in the vehicle, smiling and laughing. I smiled back and began to wave when the person hanging out the window screamed the one word that changed my life: "Nigger!" Right then and there my beautiful world crumbled into tiny pieces and fell to my feet.

I was in eighth grade, still naive, still innocent. It was the first time anyone had used that word to address me, and the first time I felt less of a person. I became ashamed of the color of my skin and began to act in ways I thought the whites would approve. I could not understand why anyone would ever judge me by the color of my skin. My solutions for racism included integration in the classrooms, creating more organizations that promote anti-racism, and educating our youths about other cultures while learning to tolerate differences.

For as long as I can remember, I have been the only minority student in most, if not all, of my classes. I grew up among smarter, more attractive, and better students. Although my life was not as difficult as Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King or the Little Rock Nine, deceitful racial slurs tore down my defensive walls and exposed my weaknesses. I remember the days when I felt I was not good enough for the whites to acknowledge me and other days when I felt too good for my own race to accept me. I longed to catch an eye similar to mine so I could say, "You look just like me, you are a part of me." I needed to know that there were people of my color in the world who held the same burdens as I did. I needed to know I could survive.

Creating organizations in which young adults encounter those different from themselves may help release some of the learned prejudices. I learned a great deal about racism and the effect it has on people at Anytown, a week-long camp for young adults that promotes anti-racism. Ninety-five delegates and staff conduct a seminar to help young adults destroy their racist feelings. We spent every waking moment trying to identify the problems with racial conflict and find solutions. We were able to discard our prejudices and recognize how racism not only effects the person targeted, but all of us. Each left feeling spiritually uplifted and prepared to change our communities, if not the world.

Though racism still pins its victims against school walls before gym, and chases them down the alley after school, there is still time to save our young generation. We must do two things: educate and tolerate. By teaching our children about our cultural differences early, we can eliminate feelings of discomfort when surrounded by people of a different color. Education about other cultures is lacking in schools. Too often, a child will grow up knowing too much about Abraham Lincoln and not enough about the culture of their next-door neighbor who is Asian or their best friend who is black. Teaching tolerance requires time, patience, and a compassionate heart.

After I returned from Anytown, I spoke to family and friends about the importance of racial unity and what benefits we would encounter if we tolerate one another. I practiced the techniques taught there and was able to forgive those who used labels to address me. The great spiritual leader Mohatmas Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Anytown taught me to begin with myself if I want to see a world free of racism. One week at Anytown gave me the courage to erase the mistakes and put my picture back in my heart. The same is possible if we start teaching children. Once we are able to stop assigning labels, we can look into a person's eyes, see past the color of their skin, and realize that we are all in this together. ?


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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