When the Hustle Gets Real

hustlegetsrealpicEDIT

BY KIARA

Its 2 Am and my mind is doing that thing again

And I wonder and I ponder and I like to pretend

And think about life without school and how easy it looks

The trips, the parties, the laid back lives and the housewives I see all over Facebook

The jobs I could have, the money I could make, the different things I could do, the different roads I could take

But the clock tells me I need to stop and keep it movin’ cuz this paper is due at 8

I’m twenty five – two plus five is 7

Now I’m delirious and thinkin’ “damn, it wasn’t this hard in undegrad back in 2011”

Eleven. 11 years ago, I wanted to be a doctor — medical

But now I’m up in this PhD program, it’s technical

When I was little, grandma used to always say books were my friends

And my friends will give me the ends I see on Facebook

and I won’t have to pretend…

(photo: Coyote Students News)

meblacklipstickKIARA LEE is the founder of #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. She’s from Richmond, Virginia and she’s passionate about education and social justice. Two of her research interests are colorism and parental incarceration. In fact, she’s been featured on CNN’s Black in America for her work with children and colorism. She’s a writer before anything else, with a blog (theBlackertheBerry.org) and 2 children’s books surrounding social issues. She often says “education can be the best thing and the worst thing at the same time,” referring to the many layers of education that can make or break a student — particularly young girls. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. She’s currently working on her PhD in education at Virginia Commonwealth University — she’s an aspiring college professor. In her free time, she likes to dabble in spoken word, write and vent about the wrongs of the world on her blog, theblackertheberry.org, shop in thrift stores, eat delicious foods, travel to new places and spend time with family and friends.


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Don’t Give Up

risingwoman2

BY FANTASIA

At the age of 16 I had to take on such huge responsibilities. Becoming the matriarch of my family at such a young age was so hard on me. I cooked, cleaned, did laundry, did most of the shopping, and made sure my younger siblings were maintaining good grades in school. All while attending school myself. There were many days I contemplated dropping out because I was exhausted. Mentally and physically. My grades started dropping drastically and my attendance was even worse, but I paid that no mind. I always thought to myself if my own family could care less about my wellbeing and my grades, why should I? It wasn’t until I had a long talk with my pre-calculus teacher, Mr. Brennan, that I became fully aware of my unrealized ability.

On the first day of my senior year I remember walking in this freezing cold room filled with dull faces and quickly noticing that I was the only African American in the occupied space.. It got so quiet when I strolled in. You could seriously hear a rat pee on cotton. We started doing work right away and all of a sudden he yelled “Ms. Alston, what’s the answer?” I wasn’t paying attention so I had no idea.  I didn’t care about passing at all. I was just in attendance so my dad wouldn’t end up in court on my behalf.  I made up some random number and then everyone burst out in laughter. I even heard this guy say “what a dummy.” I was so embarrassed and Mr. Brennan could tell. He pulled me to the side after class that day and said “Don’t be embarrassed, we’ve all gotten a question or two wrong before, but from looking at your records and talking to your previous geometry teacher, I know for a fact you knew that answer. I know you’re smart, I see your potential, and I know you won’t disappoint me or yourself from this point forward.” I thought long and hard about what he said, and he was right.  Ever since that day I began taking school a lot more seriously. My days were still tough because I continued playing the “parent” role, but I made time to do whatever was necessary to graduate.  It felt good knowing that someone cared. He even bragged about my intelligence to his other students, and he always made sure I knew that I could  be great at anything I put my mind to. My GPA rose tremendously and I ended up having the highest average in that class. Just about everyone was asking me, the “dummy,” for help.  It felt amazing to prove so many people, even myself, wrong.

If you’re struggling with school and think it’s impossible to pass I just want you to know nothing worthwhile comes easy. You will face challenges whether you’re raising a child, working nonstop, or even just piling yourself up with too much work. There will be moments you’ll doubt your ability to succeed, but don’t give up. Don’t let your doubts defeat you. There might be days you’ll feel as if you have no one to confide in. No one who will even begin to understand what you’re going through, but at the end of the day all you need is yourself.  Believe in yourself. You can do it; just wait it out and try your best, and I promise it will get better.

(photo: uptownmagazine.com)


FantasiaFantasia Alston is a 22 year old free spirit  and visionary who spends most of her time  writing poetry, reading (preferably mystery books), and doing whatever she can to help better the community. Whether it be volunteering at the nearest homeless shelter or picking up any litter found on the solid surface of the Earth. She also enjoys painting whatever comes to mind, cooking, meditating,  and taking long walks to nowhere.  She currently resides in Columbia, SC, but grew up 3 hours away in a beautiful, yet small, city named Murrells Inlet. She is the second oldest of 8 children, and the eldest daughter. Being the matriarch of the family was tough on her, but she managed to stay strong for her younger siblings and remained focused  to complete school. Although she graduated high school with an outstanding  GPA, and  always had a passion for attaining knowledge, Fantasia continuously put college on the back burner. She was lost and didn’t want to push herself into a mainstream culture where you have to graduate from high school by 18, graduate from college by 22, start working full-time in the corporate world immediately, and then get married, buy the proverbial house with the white picket fence and have kids. That might’ve been  a great idea for her fellow classmates, but not her. After years of soul searching and finding out what career would bring  her the most joy in life, she has decided that earning her degree would be best. She now has plans  to attend a university and work towards becoming a child psychotherapist.

The Middle School Girl

BY STEPHANIE

I once spoke with a young lady about a boy she was interested in. I asked her how open she was talking about boys with her mom and dad, and her response took me by surprise. She said, “ Well, you already know that my mom don’t play, but my daddy said that he doesn’t care if I date boys now, just as long as I’m not kissing on any girls…. you know…. cuz my sister is gay or whatever, and he don’t like that.” I was speechless for a second because I didn’t expect that response. I actually met this young lady a year prior to this conversation in a middle school hallway. She was dancing down the hall, singing at the top of her lungs with her tongue hanging out of her mouth. I didn’t know this young lady very well just yet, but I knew that she frequented the principal’s office for fighting other boys. I stopped as I watched her in the hallway and called for her to come over. I leaned in and said, “you are a beautiful young lady with class, and I need for you to remember that.” She smiled at me, and her facial expression showed me that she knew she wasn’t actually being very classy in that moment. Then she continued down the hall to class.

This first interaction was so powerful that as I got to know her, she began to confide in me and listen to the advice I had to give. She sought me out whenever she was upset, and I became a positive influence while she was at school. I listened to her issues with other teachers and peers while also showing her when she was in the wrong. She talked to me about other boys she was interested in, but I couldn’t help but be bothered by her sense of accomplishment  when certain boys took an interest in her. I wanted her to realize that she was supposed to see herself as a prized possession. Just like this young lady, so many young girls don’t seem to understand their potential and worth. They become distracted by other young boys who don’t seem to have a clear understanding of what respect should really look like.

Understanding this about young ladies and young boys in school is key to meeting them where they are academically so that they can learn and push toward their potential. The education of all students is important to me, but before I try to meet them where they are cognitively and academically, I have to understand where they are emotionally and socially. The education of the middle school girl, especially, can be very complex when she wants to be successful but doesn’t understand the barriers that block her. As her body goes through changes and romances come into play, it can be a real struggle trying to establish her identity. She tries to do this all while maintaining a social scene. On top of this, she is expected to sit in class, maintain focus and learn. During this time period, she tries to differentiate between positive and negative influences in her community, home, school and media sources.

As educators, parents, counselors, mentors and coaches for young ladies, we have to take all of this into consideration when trying to guide them to success. In the end, that’s really all that we want from them.

(photo: Michael Stravato from Education Week)


StephStephanie Granderson is a community advocate driven by her passion for education. Though she was raised in Richmond, Virginia, much of her cultural background comes from Trinidad and Tobago, where most of her family was born. As a first generation citizen and college graduate, she aspires to motivate her students to be successful just as others have done for her. While attending the University of Richmond, she was able to connect what she was learning in her classes about social inequalities with her experience volunteering in various schools and non-profits. Part of her experience was AT Higher Achievement, where she had the opportunity to teach math and mentor students in under-resourced communities.  After graduation, she continued to serve Richmond through VCU’s AmeriCorps program where she tutored first and second graders to establish a stronger foundation in reading. She continues to tutor students in math, from kindergarten all the way up to calculus,
part-time after working at a middle school with students who have special needs in the City of Richmond. Stephanie loves to knit, dance, eat sushi, and practice speaking Spanish whenever she has the opportunity.

You Don’t Have to Like School

school hallway blur

BY JENNIFER

My mother always told me that I had to do well in school. She never showed me how, but it was drilled in my head for as long as I could write that I was supposed to be ‘smart’ and do well in school to uplift my family and my race.

Honestly, I never even liked school. I always felt like someone else in the classroom, save for when I was sharing or writing an essay, creating art performing a play. I felt stifled being forced to learn many difficult things that did not benefit my mood or my future. To top it all off, I was the ‘contaminated’ kid. Talk or befriend me and you were automatically a target in elementary school. I was a social outcast and although middle and high school wasn’t as bad as elementary school, I never regained my appreciation for school. I skipped a lot, and being in the academic environment gave me headaches. So, why am I even here?

In my junior year of high school I was convinced I was going to illustrate and create comic book characters. I had a low GPA at that time and I was going to spend all of my time drawing so I could be good enough to get out of school and never return. One day, my peers and I were having a conversation about college, perhaps brought about by our teacher and I listened to what they we’re saying. Everyone wanted money. No one really had a drive to learn; it was always a decision made for them before they could even speak. I didn’t want to go. The sedentary lifestyle wasn’t for me. I wanted to do and make… and that’s when I really learned what school was about. My mother, although pushing me to make a name for myself in school, never really explained how to get in to college or what exactly what was. She never explained to me the importance of a good work ethic in high school; she only said that it was something I had to maintain. I think my mother gave up on me a long time ago. I couldn’t blame her. But I did want to prove her wrong.  And I wanted to go to school- not to prove my mother wrong but simply because I found out that you had a choice to learn skills that you want to learn. I did not know it was possible before to learn so much in school. I thought college was only for the doctors, businessmen and women, lawyers and scientists of the world. It never dawned on me that I would be learning skills I wanted to learn and choosing a path that best fit me.

Even after my ‘groundbreaking’ discovery school did not get much easier for me, but I worked

 hard. In my last two years of high school I had about a 3.8 average compared to my first two years leveling out to about 2.5. It felt good to prove everyone wrong, and I did. Then, I still had hopes of being an artist, but I’ve changed I will continue to and the great part is my education can change with me. Even know, I’m thinking of changing to a theater major and I know if I hadn’t continued my education and tried so hard I wouldn’t of had a chance to figure out what I want and what best suits me. Education is, to me, important not because I want to make anyone proud of me anymore, but because I’m learning about the things that make me happy and will mold me into a person that can give back to the world. Sometimes school isn’t for everyone but if there’s a better way to learn and grow among a community of lost intellectuals just like me, let me know. I still don’t appreciate carrying around books all the time and bad school food or spending hours reading boring texts, but I know I’m going to find my place here soon.

(photo source: nces.ed.gov)


JenniferJennifer Lee is a freshman at VCU currently studying Africana Studies and English. She grew up all around Virginia and enjoys trees, sunshine, driving, and good books. She hopes to become a writer, actress and an activist. She considers herself an average student but says she has an amazing brain and she hopes to empower those that are as lost as she is.

When School Hurts More than it Helps

segregated classroom edit

BY KIARA

(from theBlackertheBerry.org)

Go to school. Get your education. Be better and live better because of it.

But what happens when school is imprisoning instead of empowering?

What happens when your teachers tell you of all the things you can’t do instead of what you can do? What happens when good grades become bad and bad grades become good, all in the name of peer pressure, manhood and being “hard?” And how complicated it becomes when grades are no longer black and white – when they are associated with race, when “acting black” and “acting white” and “acting” other ethnicities blurs positive and negative images, attitudes and ideals – full of gray area. Or when you’re too hungry to concentrate…to make the grades to get out the hood that’s keeping you hungry. Or when the school keeps testing you because you can’t pass the tests – but for your failure, they have no answer. Or when in general, school seems like the strangest, most distant foreign land, because nothing about it resembles who you are or where you’re from.

What happens when these things and more not only exist, but are also exacerbated under the school’s roof? What do you do?

You fight back.

If knowledge is power, you have to be willing to fight for it.

Kids don’t know the fight as well as we adults know it, as many of us have been there before, so essentially, the fight for our kids’ education is in our hands.

We can’t take everything for gospel, simply because a teacher, a principal or another official says it. My parents were told that I may be deaf and/or autistic at a very young age because I started to walk, talk and develop in general at a later age than most children. But then, all of that was debunked. But then I started school. I was tapped for the gifted program in school. Then, I got honor roll, and much later national honor society and other honors and today, I’m an author with an advanced degree from one of the best schools in the nation and God willing – it’s only the beginning. So many people I know have eerily similar stories, and they’ve gone on to accomplish a whole lot.

All kids are capable of greatness. We can’t let naysayers dressed up with fancy titles tell them otherwise.

We have to be willing to sacrifice for education, for if we don’t, we sacrifice our children. If he or she is struggling where you’re at and you’re convinced he or she would fare better in another area, do what you have to do within reason to make that move. Before I was born, my folks were young and struggling, and opted to go without furniture for a year to send my older sisters to a private school in Long Island because it offered them a safer environment and better opportunities. An uncomfortable year it may have been, but the advantages of that sacrifice will last a lifetime. If we don’t buy into education, they surely won’t. Buy into it, no matter how much it costs. Temporary discomfort beats the permanent setback of the generations that follow us.

 Praise them in school. Many scholars reference the transition from third grade to fourth grade as problematic for kids, particularly African-American boys, as the nurturing from the teacher (the doting, the “babying”) drops significantly during that transition and as a result, grades drop . But technically, it’s not the teacher’s job to nurture our children – it’s up to us. The praise matters. We have to recognize their efforts and reward their accomplishments. We have to be active and interested in their studies. We have to be their backbone and their biggest cheerleader, especially during the younger years. The smallest strides need recognition just like honor roll and graduation. Don’t act like you don’t remember how good you felt as a little boy or a little girl when an adult noticed your good work.

When school hurts more than it helps, the story isn’t over. If we play our cards right, it’s simply a bump in the road. If we play our cards right and put up a good defense, we’ll win the fight.


meblacklipstickKIARA LEE is the founder of #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. She’s from Richmond, Virginia and she’s passionate about education and social justice. Two of her research interests are colorism and parental incarceration. In fact, she’s been featured on CNN’s Black in America for her work with children and colorism. She’s a writer before anything else, with a blog (theBlackertheBerry.org) and 2 children’s books surrounding social issues. She often says “education can be the best thing and the worst thing at the same time,” referring to the many layers of education that can make or break a student — particularly young girls. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. She’s currently working on her PhD in education at Virginia Commonwealth University — she’s an aspiring college professor. In her free time, she likes to dabble in spoken word, write and vent about the wrongs of the world on her blog, theblackertheberry.org, shop in thrift stores, eat delicious foods, travel to new places and spend time with family and friends.

Pressure

BY FANTASIA

You can attend  this party with us
After the game
But you’d rather study
Because you’re so “lame”
We can make sure you’re up
For school in the morning
Come turn up with us
Don’t be so “boring”
It’ll be okay
If you miss one day of school
Don’t ditch us for books
That’s so “not cool”
What if we take you home early?
I’ll be sure you make it back
A few hours of fun won’t hurt
Come on, don’t be so “whack”
Ugh I guess your answer is no
This is so absurd
We’ll leave you alone with your schoolwork
Continue being a “nerd”

……no no don’t leave
Just let me get dressed
It’s time to celebrate with my girls
I’m not worried about that test

We all know peer pressure can be tough to deal with, especially when you are a teenager or in your college years. The desire to fit in and feel like you are part of a crowd  is completely normal, and most people feel this way their entire lives. The substantial  thing about peer pressure is that it can occasionally  be positive, but other times it can be a bad influence in our lives. Contesting to the pressure of your peers can be challenging but it’s important  that you know what your own personal values are and where you stand about certain things. It’s okay to be assertive and say no.

(photo: pain.com)

 


FantasiaFantasia Alston is a 22 year old free spirit  and visionary who spends most of her time  writing poetry, reading (preferably mystery books), and doing whatever she can to help better the community. Whether it be volunteering at the nearest homeless shelter or picking up any litter found on the solid surface of the Earth. She also enjoys painting whatever comes to mind, cooking, meditating,  and taking long walks to nowhere.  She currently resides in Columbia, SC, but grew up 3 hours away in a beautiful, yet small, city named Murrells Inlet. She is the second oldest of 8 children, and the eldest daughter. Being the matriarch of the family was tough on her, but she managed to stay strong for her younger siblings and remained focused  to complete school. Although she graduated high school with an outstanding  GPA, and  always had a passion for attaining knowledge, Fantasia continuously put college on the back burner. She was lost and didn’t want to push herself into a mainstream culture where you have to graduate from high school by 18, graduate from college by 22, start working full-time in the corporate world immediately, and then get married, buy the proverbial house with the white picket fence and have kids. That might’ve been  a great idea for her fellow classmates, but not her. After years of soul searching and finding out what career would bring  her the most joy in life, she has decided that earning her degree would be best. She now has plans  to attend a university and work towards becoming a child psychotherapist.

When the Boys don’t Like your Books

teen couple arguing

BY KIARA

“See, that’s your problem. You got your nose too far in them books.”

Two sentences I vowed to never forget.

I heard these words in the beginning of my freshman year of high school. Who said these words, you ask? This older boy, frustrated and angry because I didn’t want to talk to him.

I was working on a group project with a classmate over the phone. Next thing I knew, this guy from school was on the line with us. I really didn’t appreciate it because I was focused on getting our work done. Little did I know that this boy, who was good friends with my group project partner, was using our work time as an opportunity to try to spit some game at me.

“Where do you live?”

“What do you like to do for fun?”

“Are you a virgin?”

That was it.

Before he could ask any more questions, I went off. “Look, we have an assignment to get done. Maybe you need to hang up your phone and do something else because you’re really getting in the way right now,” I said.

And that’s when his anger set in and his true feelings about school and about me seeped out.

“Well you lame anyway. Always worried about school huh. Okay that’s why you don’t have no man,” he yelled.

My heart dropped. Not because I was offended, but because I saw the very type of guy my parents had always warned me about in living form.

“See, that’s your problem. You got your nose too far in them books.”

I always had been told that any boy that doesn’t respect your education, your goals and your dreams means you NO good. The knucklehead trying to interrupt my work would have rather me not finish my project and risk getting a bad grade — all because he wanted to get in my pants.

Ladies, your nose being in the books is NEVER a problem.  Be strong and firm in your beliefs for yourself and your future. If any boy or any man doesn’t value your wants and your desires, drop him as soon as you can.

When the boys don’t like your books, don’t like the boys.

(photo:rawstory.com)


meblacklipstickKIARA LEE is the founder of #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. She’s from Richmond, Virginia and she’s passionate about education and social justice. Two of her research interests are colorism and parental incarceration. In fact, she’s been featured on CNN’s Black in America for her work with children and colorism. She’s a writer before anything else, with a blog (theBlackertheBerry.org) and 2 children’s books surrounding social issues. She often says “education can be the best thing and the worst thing at the same time,” referring to the many layers of education that can make or break a student — particularly young girls. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. She’s currently working on her PhD in education at Virginia Commonwealth University — she’s an aspiring college professor. In her free time, she likes to dabble in spoken word, write and vent about the wrongs of the world on her blog, theblackertheberry.org, shop in thrift stores, eat delicious foods, travel to new places and spend time with family and friends.

Untitled

college suitcase

BY FANTASIA

College is approaching
Not sure if I’m ready
The thought of leaving home
Makes my heart heavy
Will this transition
Affect my siblings
Could me going away
Cause excessive quibbling
Could me staying
Send the wrong message
Will that delay
Cause my determination to lessen
The unbearable confusion
Of not knowing what to do
Especially when your loved ones
Look up to you
Not earning my degree
Will be a huge regret
stability is a must
More security, less fret
I was going to college
A  cogent decision, yet subtle
I knew I wanted nothing to get in the way
Of this school girl and her hustle


FantasiaFantasia Alston is a 22 year old free spirit  and visionary who spends most of her time  writing poetry, reading (preferably mystery books), and doing whatever she can to help better the community. Whether it be volunteering at the nearest homeless shelter or picking up any litter found on the solid surface of the Earth. She also enjoys painting whatever comes to mind, cooking, meditating,  and taking long walks to nowhere.  She currently resides in Columbia, SC, but grew up 3 hours away in a beautiful, yet small, city named Murrells Inlet. She is the second oldest of 8 children, and the eldest daughter. Being the matriarch of the family was tough on her, but she managed to stay strong for her younger siblings and remained focused  to complete school. Although she graduated high school with an outstanding  GPA, and  always had a passion for attaining knowledge, Fantasia continuously put college on the back burner. She was lost and didn’t want to push herself into a mainstream culture where you have to graduate from high school by 18, graduate from college by 22, start working full-time in the corporate world immediately, and then get married, buy the proverbial house with the white picket fence and have kids. That might’ve been  a great idea for her fellow classmates, but not her. After years of soul searching and finding out what career would bring  her the most joy in life, she has decided that earning her degree would be best. She now has plans  to attend a university and work towards becoming a child psychotherapist.