The American Dream
Hughley advocates for non-English speakers, bullied students
As a little girl Wilda Hughley said she dreamed of one day coming to America from her home country of Haiti. As an adult, she met the man of her dreams, and together, 18 years ago, they made her American dream a reality.
Hughley met her husband, an American missionary, while still living in Haiti. The couple married and moved to the United States to be closer to his family back in 2000.
Her move to America was not without hardships, though. She experienced embarrassment from not being an English speaker and her daughter was bullied by her peers at school for being “different,” almost to the point of taking her own life.
“It was always my dream to come to America when I was a little girl. My husband’s family lives here, in Mineral Springs. He was a United Methodist preacher, and he moved us to a church in Hot Springs, so that’s how we ended up in Hot Springs,” she said.
Hughley, a teacher at Hot Springs School District, said the education system in America is much different, much easier, than that of Haiti. In Haiti, she said, kids were not allowed to ask their teachers questions or use calculators, and every- thing came at a cost.
“When we came here, I just thought, ‘It is so easy to get an education here.’ The lunch is free, you get to come to school on the buses — in Haiti that is not provided for you; you have to pay for school, you have to pay for lunch, you have to pay to get on the buses, so it was a culture shock for me,” she said.
She entered her children into the American school system but still had concerns based on her own experiences of being bullied by her classmates at school.
“When I was at school I was very skinny and tall and the name they used to call me was Olive Oil. I was very, very uncomfortable with that. I was scared to go out, I was scared to play with other kids, I didn’t know how to handle that,” she said. “It took me almost until I was in 11th grade to really have friends, to really put myself out there.”
Hughley recalls being hesitant to leave her son alone at school when he started preschool because she was afraid that he would experience the same problems with not being accepted as she did. She admits following him to school and sitting outside of his classroom to watch over him.
“I was the one outside the classroom crying and my son was excited to be with his friends. I thought he was going to have a hard time, and I’m the one having a hard time,” she recalled, laughing.
“Every day I was in the school waiting, and then one day there was a parent who came in and didn’t speak any English. She was asking a question but there was nobody to understand what she wanted. I said, ‘I know Spanish,’ and I told them what she needed. The principal said, ‘Since you’re here every day, maybe you can just stay and help us out,’” Hughley said.
This marked the beginning of her career as an educator.
She said going into the education field was the right fit for her, first because she enjoyed being home at the same time as her son, but also because she recognized the need for more bilingual teachers in the school district.
“I wanted to become an ESL teacher in order to help, because I saw the way that the students that speak other languages were just sitting on a computer, nobody helping them. I said, ‘I want to be a voice for them,’ because I know how that feels,” Hughley said. “When you do not understand the language, people feel like you don’t belong. It’s not because we don’t know anything or because we aren’t intelligent; it’s just a language barrier. I
became a teacher just to get that barrier down of thinking that immigrant people, or people that speak another language, are not worth it.”
Hughley started an anti-bullying campaign in response to her daughter’s experience with bullies in middle school. She said her daughter’s middle school bully went so far that a restraining order had to be placed on her so that her daughter could have a normal life.
“A little situation happened to her in middle school and she was bullied very bad. It was all over social media, all over school. Finally, she wanted to take her life because she couldn’t take it anymore, it was so much on her,” she said. “My husband and I had to find a counselor and stuff like that and we were so happy to be able to catch this before she was able to kill herself. There are so many parents that didn’t have a chance to stop it; we are honored to have gotten that chance and to be advocates for anti-bullying.”
Hughley said that social media is one of the main culprits in bullying and in the rise of depression among today’s teenagers.
“This is what’s killing our teenage life today. It’s social media. It’s the way they’re looking at how we’re ‘supposed’ to be,” she said, adding that at the beginning of the school year she did an exercise with her students during which she asked them to anonymously tell her one thing they wanted her to know about themselves.
Most of her students, she said, revealed that they were depressed.
“I told them that beauty is not physical, it’s not on the outside, it’s inside. I said, ‘All of you here have your own beauty. God created you the way you are for a reason. If He made all of us look alike, how boring that would be,’” she said. “It hurts my heart to see that depression is getting these young kids who have no bills, no responsibility, no nothing, but they go home and they’re not happy.”
Hughley said she hopes to combat these issues by being an advocate for the kids. She also founded the Miss Victorious Pageant in 2016, which focuses on inner beauty, acceptance and anti-bullying instead of external beauty.