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© 2019 | Together America, Inc., 501(c)(3)

We're changing Tulsa's story

September 21, 2016

 

My students lived lives filled with tragedies and realities that most adults would be traumatized by. For the first semester of my first year of teaching, I would get in my car some days and just cry.If you love someone, you can’t bear to see them go through pain the way many of my students had in their short lives.

 

My kids confided everything in me.

 

I taught English, a subject that gives ample room for self-reflection and storytelling. Their narratives were often thrilling, heart wrenching, and moving. They didn’t hold back—like writing their stories was cathartic. They needed to be heard. They needed someone to see where they’d been, and, more importantly, how far they’d come despite it or because of it.

 

My kids were awe-inspiring.

 

 

They’d come to school and be humans just like anyone I knew, but they’d be better because they didn’t go home at the end of the day feeling sorry for themselves. They just lived and trudged through—experiencing the range of human emotion and being. Their lives gave them the resilience to keep going every day. Just waking up meant that despite any hardship, they had hope and strength I couldn’t fathom. They were incredible. They were my teachers. They were critical—they understood things that adults think only adults understand. They’d been to different levels of life—levels well beyond their age. They asked questions I couldn’t answer, sparking debates and rich discussions about the things that make this world tick and turn. They were the wake-up call I’d needed since I was born into my privileged existence.

 

They taught me my role in the classroom: to be someone who loved them so much that I’d look past their pains and push them to reach greatness because they’d proven just by living that they could reach it.

 

But their brilliant minds and their pursuit of learning and figuring out life were just some of the things that left me, at the end of the day, smiling and shaking my head in awe.

 

What they really had like I’d never experienced before was a reserve of love and loyalty that I swear could cure the world of all its ills.

 

My students and I formed a bond built by the strongest of threads—a familial, unconditional love.

 

My kids were my life.

 

For two years, I didn’t sleep soundly because I dreamed of my kids—what they needed, what projects we could do, what questions they’d asked, what problems they’d told me about, what solutions we could devise.

 

For two years, I got to spend every day surrounded by and serving people I wholeheartedly loved and who wholeheartedly loved me back.

 

And for two years, I dealt with people in my neighborhood, more central and south of where my kids lived and went to school, cringing when I told them I was a teacher at Hale Junior High. I watched their eyes widen in horror, and their eyebrows turn up in sympathy. I watched their hand touch their heart in empathy. I watched the words come out of their mouth: “Oh my,” “oh, wow,” “that’s rough”.

 

Every time, a motherly fury in defense of my kids would rise in my chest as I fought back some less-than-kind retort. They didn’t understand. They’d never met my kids. They listened to the news at night when they went home. And they’d already made up their minds on how “the other side of town” lived.

 

It wasn’t fair.

 

It wasn’t fair to my kids, who were the best humans I’d ever met. It wasn’t fair that their stories were written for them.

 

It wasn’t fair to the people in Tulsa’s predominantly white suburbs because they were missing out on the experience of being inspired and filled up with hope by those kids on the other side of town. They lived in fear of the “other” and there was no mechanism in place to help them see that the “other” was actually a child, a human being, with a heart, a life, a family, a drive to be better, a resilience to defy all odds, and a capacity for love that could teach us all a lesson on living.

 

This misunderstanding and division is rampant in our city. We are divided by race and socioeconomic status. Each subgroup has its stereotypes against other subgroups. We live in the Age of Information and yet those that control information only release that which perpetuates stereotypes against those that don’t control it.

 

Even in the magazines distributed throughout Tulsa for community news, celebration, culture and entertainment, there is a blatant absence of kids of color and kids from low-income neighborhoods. Our kids from Tulsa Public Schools don’t make it onto the pages of those publications.

 

Important voices are left out of Tulsa’s narrative.

 

After getting a glimpse of that missing piece from my students during my two years of teaching, I feel compelled to create a platform that lifts up the voices of those that have gone unheard.

 

Stories change the world—they set precedents, teach lessons, provide perspective, they inspire, they preserve, and they empower.

 

It’s time for our kids to write and tell their own stories.

 

Together Tulsa was created to be the avenue through which kids in our community can explore their identities, take pride in who they are and where they’ve come from. Together Tulsa is a celebration of kids in the corners of our city that have been marred by negative attention and negative assumptions.

 

We call ourselves Together Tulsa, and we identify with the compass as our logo, because our mission is to create a new, more inclusive identity for Tulsa. We want the people of our city to understand that the divisions between us are socially constructed. The reality is that together we all—from the North, the East, the South and the West—make up the city we love. Together we are Tulsa.

 

We have lofty goals of changing the cultural landscape of our city, but there is no group more perfectly poised to do it than the young people that comprise this city. They are the future, and I can’t wait for Tulsans to see just how bright it shines.

 

 

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