By Orangielee Wilkinson
Riverhead High School
“Is your mom gay?” This is the first question I was asked on my first day of 3rd grade. At the time I did not understand what “gay” meant nor the look on everyone’s face as she walked me to the front doors of the school and gave a kiss goodbye. As the years went on, stares lingered, questions arised, and some went as far as to make inappropriate comments to my mother. I did not tell my mother about what had been happening until 6th grade. I did not want my mother to be hurt by the words of my classmates, but when I told her, she was unbothered and continued to radiate the strength she walks around with everyday.
What surprised me most was how a word that ultimately means to be happy, could be used as a hurtful weapon to mean to break someone down rather than to uplift and strengthen them. From this early childhood experience I learned the importance of treating others equitably. As the years progress more people are willing to speak out against slanderous injustice towards members of the LGBTQ+ community, but with their building confidence many feel that they too should publicly shame and make others feel as if they are less than human for wanting to express their true selves to society.
Other than the discrimination I have seen towards my mother, I also faced my own challenges as a black educated female in the United States. One of the most debated topics in America is access to equal opportunities amongst races. Many institutions have not given chances to minority students. Growing up black in America, I face prejudice based on the color of my skin. Teachers will assume what I can and can not learn, and at one point, attempted to put me into special education classes, stating that I would not be able to keep up with the rigor of the class. Despite the constant put downs, I persisted with my hard work and dedication, to thrive in a system that expected just the opposite of a student of my looks.
Thus began my mission of inclusivity, to never allow anyone to ever feel left out or held back based on their gender/sexual orientation, race or religious beliefs. Through my school organization CAP, we work with 5th and 6th grade students to promote the dangers of drug abuse, but also self esteem and how to handle difficult situations such as the one I was in at age eight. Going into these classrooms allowed me to explain to the younger generation that it is encouraged to be yourself, no matter who that maybe, and that you have someone you can speak to who will always have your back 100%. Attending a school in which the minorities now comprise the majority is just an example of how inclusivity can create an environment for students to thrive in creatively and academically.