In my senior year of high school, I spent as much time as I could with my friends. We had all been at that school together for at least 10 years and we were trying to make as many memories as we could before we all went off to different universities. One day after school we were walking around the halls reminiscing on all the fun we had in the past few years.
“Hey guys! Remember that day we ran around the school blasting music and dancing to the High School Musical soundtrack?” SaRena said.
“I don’t know if you can call what Maya was doing as dancing,” Malaika mumbled.
This lead to all of us (even Maya) bursting into laughter. Our sounds echoed through the stairwell as we made our way back to the senior lounge. We all stopped walking when we saw SaRena facing the wall, and completely silent. SaRena is the happiest person I know, not to mention she is always laughing. If laughter really does make you live longer, then she is going to be immortal. One by one my friends gathered around her and each smile faded. When I did, I saw a poster with a picture of a black baby on it. The poster read, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb. Through abortion, African Americans have achieved what the KKK could only dream of.” At the bottom of the poster in small print was some writing that read, Stone Ridge Pro-Life Club. The laughter that once filled the stairwell was replaced with a deafening silence.
My school was a small, private, all girls, Catholic school. Even though most of its students were white, situations like this had never been a concern. I had attended it for 14 years and my mother and aunt graduated from there. In all those years, racism had never been something to worry about within the walls of Stone Ridge. It was my safe haven in a world that wasn’t always fair. This being said, seeing this poster left us all in shock. I was stunned silent, but Malaika was fuming. She ripped down the poster and shouted about how not only was it inaccurate, but extremely offensive. As we walked back to the lounge, we tried to decide what course of action we should take. After some time though we decided to go home and think it over, so we didn’t make any irrational decisions.
That night I laid awake for a while thinking about what I should do. I knew saying something to the dean of the high school was the right thing to do, but I had my own selfish reasons for wanting to forget about the whole thing. Both of the leaders of the Pro-Life Club were my very good friends and I knew if I came forward they would take this as a personal attack. On the other hand, if I pretended like this never happened I would only be validating their actions, and worse leaving other black students open to experiencing the same type of discrimination.
The next morning, before we all met I spoke to the two leaders of the Pro-Life club. I explained to them that while I had nothing against their club, the poster was hurtful and wrong. I requested that they take action to repair the damage they had done. As I predicted, they took this as an attack on their club. They told me that one of the members put the poster up and that by tearing it down we committed an act of vandalism. They said I was lucky they didn’t report me to the dean. I tried to reason with them, but they were refusing to acknowledge that the problem was much larger than tearing down a poster. They didn’t understand that not doing anything to remedy the situation when they had the ability to was just as bad as being the one to put up the poster.
Since I was unable to resolve the situation the way I wanted, Malaika, SaRena, Maya and myself got together, crafted an email requesting a meeting that afternoon and sent it to the dean, Mrs. Frazier. At lunch, we got a reply and she set up a meeting for that day. When 4 p.m. came around we were all sitting in the waiting room outside the office in silence. The only thing that could be heard was Maya rapidly tapping her foot on the wood floor. We knew what needed to be said, but we were still nervous. I practically jumped out of my seat when Mrs. Frazier opened the door. She greeted us with a wide smile and invited us in. We explained everything that had happened yesterday and showed her the poster. I then explained to her how offended and unsafe we felt after finding the poster. I told her that we felt as though African Americans were being targeted and explained that we have nothing against the pro-life club putting up posters, however this one went too far. I then told her that at the least, I felt an apology to the high school from the Pro-Life club was necessary. I was convinced that after all that was said she would be persuaded to take action. Once I finished, she smiled at me sweetly, and applauded us for our “composure in such a confusing situation.” Then, she proceeded to tell us that what we needed was not an apology, “what you need is a sit down with the Pro-Life club, where you can both voice your opinions and where neither side feels attacked or like they did anything wrong.” I am not sure what I expected, but that was definitely not it. This was the second time in less than 24 hours I was stunned into silence.
I looked around at my friends waiting for one of them to respond, but to my surprise each one of them was looking back at me. So, I turned back and looked at Mrs. Frazier sitting behind her huge desk and resting in her chair as though it was a throne. The desk was a finished dark wood and it seemed presidential and powerful. From behind that desk she wielded all the power and we were just victims to it. The once safe place had been invaded by the realities of the world. I felt the sturdy walls of my safe haven begin to crumble. I was no longer protected. She broke the silence by telling us to take the weekend to think it over and then we would have another meeting on Monday.
We left the meeting wearing disappointment on our faces. We felt helpless and lost. The next Monday came around and she cancelled the meeting. Later in the week, we emailed again and there was no response. Every day for two weeks we tried to set up a meeting and every day for two weeks she made excuses or cancelled or ignored us. How could she ignore our emails? How did she not understand that by ignoring the situation, she was condoning the behavior of the club? Not correcting them meant that they could possibly do it again. What if next time it is worse? Eventually, we gave up. We had become resigned to the fact that the place that promised to always listen to the voices of their students didn’t actually care about our voices when they created conflict.
Looking back, I wish I had done more and tried harder. I think about who I was a year ago and can’t believe how much has changed. I wish I had been strong enough to confront Mrs. Frazier or go over her head because she was just one person, but instead I sat down and pretended like everything was fine even though it wasn’t. Often, I think about how I spent the best 14 years of my life at that school and made lifelong friends. It has always been my second home and because I gave up someone else might not get to experience the amazing things Stone Ridge can provide, and did provide to me. So, last week I began drafting an email to the head of school, Mrs. Karrels. Even though it may be too late for me, it’s not too late for everyone.
Dear Malaika, SaRena and Maya,
I have recently been challenged to look back on my
life and write about an instance of communication failure. The problem we had last year with the poster came to mind. When writing it I found it very difficult not to get a little angry about how the whole situation went down. It has been some time since I really thought about it and it evoked emotions I didn’t realize I felt. I found it really difficult to put those emotions into words in a way that others would understand.
I want you all to read this essay because I know it is something that impacted us all greatly. Malaika, this motivated you to pursue your passion for law as a way of making sure nobody else feels helpless. SaRena, before this you didn’t realize that people actually believed things like what was on that poster. It gave you some life experience you needed before going to a college in the south, where some would agree with the ideas displayed on the poster. Maya, this experience taught you that you could speak out against the wrongdoings of others. This experience helped us all find our voices. Unfortunately, we did not find a resolution and I think that it is time we did.
I think that this essay is missing some emotion. I don’t think that I was properly able to truly express all the emotions that I felt. This might be because I still don’t fully understand everything that I feel about this situation. I feel that towards the middle I failed to maintain my momentum and I lost the interest of the audience. Regardless, I think that the overall message comes through and that’s what is most important.
Your Friend, Natalie