When students at Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies returned to in-person instruction, they faced a tense situation in Elizabeth City. Students from nine different counties were gathering in a new school building — many interacting with each other for the first time — soon after the police killing of Andrew Brown, an unarmed Black man. In response to racist incidents, the school allowed students to lead the way, building a school culture around respect and inclusivity. This series includes five student perspectives and two perspectives from the guidance counselors in their own words.
I’m 16 years old growing up in Elizabeth City. Some people think that it isn’t hard to watch everything that’s happening: the shootings, others committing suicide, low self-esteem. It is hard. Harder when you feel like part of the problem.
I have a friend that everyone used to tease all the time because he made bad grades. He tried his best, but we would still tease him because of it. Yes, he would laugh along with us. But that was just to cover up his cry. He was really trying to make that A or B.
Then, he failed a grade — twice — because he gave up on himself. Now, he thinks he’ll never go anywhere in life. He thinks he will amount to nothing. We try to help him, but I feel like it’s too late now. He already has the thought that he’s dumb planted in his mind.
That’s how much of an impact we can have on someone’s life with our words and our behaviors.
I had to learn the hard way, and I had to face the fact that the way that my friends and I joked around was not showing each other respect. We thought that we joked with each other to show love, not knowing that one friend was going home feeling bad about himself.
Thankfully, I got a second chance.
One day, my friend had an altercation with another student. He talked to the principal about him being disrespected and, soon, we started a Respect and Inclusiveness Group at the school.
Respect is an important part of having a relationship with someone. I look around my city and I think there is so much room in this world for respect and inclusiveness. People are protesting about cops, shootings, teachers, students, peers. What matters is what you’re going to do about the situation to better yourself. Maybe once everyone gets that, this world would be at peace.
We’re protesting some people, but we’re not noticing that it’s everyone. Everyone plays a part in the things that happen. You may not do things physically, but emotionally you can put someone in a state of mind to do something that’s bad.
What are you going to do if you’re a white cop approaching a Black man? Do you think the Black man will harm you because of his skin color? If you were a principal, a Black child and white child were caught fighting — do they get the same punishment? If you saw your best friend bullying someone because of the way they dress, what would you do?
We have to expand love and decrease hate. That’s the start of change. We then have to raise the stakes by projecting respect and inclusiveness. Start helping out. Give compliments to others just to make their day. Tell someone they are beautiful. Help that old lady cross the street.