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Struggle And Acceptance – My Experience With Inclusion

August 21, 2019

By: Lauren Nutall

Growing up, I attended a private school. Although it was a conservative and predominantly white environment, I never felt out of place. This was partly because of my age. Although I was unaware of the struggles my parents feared I would face, as I grew older, I slowly began to notice things that I had not realized before. When I reached elementary school, I realized that I was the only African American kid in my entire grade. Although other African American students had come and gone, none stayed for more than a year. It was like this for many years and it did not change until middle school. Still, I could count on one hand the number of people who looked like me. 

An event from my childhood that sticks out to me is one that took place in the sixth grade. Homecoming was rapidly approaching and I was the only girl in my entire class with no date. Although insignificant now, a date at that age was validating and, because I was seemingly the only girl without one, this only strengthened what I was already beginning to realize. 

 

“You know the reason no one’s asked you to homecoming? It’s because you’re black.”

 

A boy who was an occasional friend approached me in the cafeteria one day, in front of the entire table. I did not expect that he was going to ask me. Instead, I was simply happy to talk to someone I considered a friend to me. He was trying to tell me something and he seemed excited. I stood up and faced him, as he began to speak. Unexpectedly, he said words no one had ever outright spoken to me in all of my years at school: 

“You know the reason no one’s asked you to homecoming? It’s because you’re black.” 

In that moment, my eyes instantly welled up and I sat down to be comforted by my friends who had heard the entire conversation. 

I have never forgotten that incident. Although I learned to forgive him, I still vividly remember his words from that day. The pain and sadness I felt when he spoke to me was deep. Not only because I was embarrassed, but because his words solidified what I had already felt for years.

I was the only black girl in my grade for many years. I never had the chance to fit in because something about me always stood out: my skin, my hair, my features. I never fully acknowledged that I was different until I reached the dreadful middle school years.

Not only was I physically different, but there were also differences financially. My parents raised my sister and I in a stable home and made a good income. Still, I was unable to shake the feeling of inferiority that would arise whenever I would visit a classmate’s home.  While my backyard was simply a few yards with a fence around it, many of my peers had acres of land that required the use of golf carts. I’d never had a home with a pool, but visiting a friend’s birthday party was like going to a water park.

I never knew the effect all of these things had on me until I reached the ninth grade, when I began attending my current school. The cultural shift was significant and, despite initially struggling my freshman year, I slowly became more comfortable with my new environment. 

At my new school, I have encountered people from all walks of life: different minorities, immigrants, conservatives, liberals, people of different religions and more. The diversity of the students has had a direct impact on my education. Because of the unique student body, I’ve been exposed to different opinions and views that have helped develop my critical thinking and communication skills.

Critical thinking requires deep thought and occasional engagement with those who have opposing views. My interactions with people different from myself and what I’m accustomed to has helped me. The diversity of my peers has helped me understand complex issues that plague communities everywhere and has given me insight into what others may be going through.

I’ve also developed stronger communication abilities. I’ve learned how to communicate my thoughts and feelings in a respectful manner while also listening to the opinions of others. 

For years I struggled with feelings of inadequacy because I felt alone and different from everybody around me. My experiences are not uncommon. Many children grow up in an environment where they do not feel accepted or comfortable. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that diversity is an essential part of a child’s development. Not only educationally, but emotionally as well. Without it, children are unable to fully pursue their potential. That is why our mission at Education Opens Doors is important. Our organization is determined to help every student succeed, and that starts with inclusivity. 

 

Lauren Nutall served as a Mayor’s Intern with EOD this summer. She is a junior at the Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet at the Townview Magnet Center. She aspires to attend New York University and major in journalism and international relations. Eventually, she hopes to become a political journalist and possibly develop her own website featuring the work and opinions of different individuals.

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