Do adults lis­ten when kids speak out?

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS -

30 friends two weeks ago. But when the 17-year-old talked about ac­cess to higher ed­u­ca­tion to the crowd of 300, he nailed it.

The Amer­i­can dream for im­mi­grants, in his mind, is dy­ing.

“Most col­lege doors for low-in­come stu­dents like me re­main half open,” he said.

Phu, a se­nior at a pub­lic char­ter school in north­west Wash­ing­ton, came to Amer­ica from Viet­nam in 2004. And he knows that, like so many of his peers, he’s go­ing to have to work to sup­port him­self while go­ing to Ge­orge Ma­son Uni­ver­sity, and he’s prob­a­bly go­ing to grad­u­ate with crip­pling debts.

“I know that ed­u­ca­tion is the great equal­izer,” Phu told me af­ter his speech. “But I re­ally don’t think it’s there for all the low-in­come kids like me any­more.”

These kids are painfully aware of where they stand on this coun­try’s pri­or­ity list.

Nyla Thomas, a sev­en­th­grader, was appalled when her cousin in preschool was sus­pended for more than a week for mis­be­hav­ior. So she re­searched sus­pen­sion rates, which con­firmed what she thought was hap­pen­ing.

“Sus­pen­sions are bi­ased against mi­nori­ties in Amer­ica,” she said. Af­ter her pre­sen­ta­tion, she told me that it feels like too many teach­ers make quick judg­ments be­fore get­ting to re­ally know kids. “That’s what it looked like when it hap­pened to my lit­tle cousin.”

Amora Camp­bell, a sopho­more, won first place in the con­test. Her or­a­tory about health care was clear, pas­sion­ate and per­sonal.

“I live in a low-in­come neigh­bor­hood,” Amora said. “And I see peo­ple who can’t af­ford med­i­ca­tions.”

There was a teen whose speech on men­tal health in the black com­mu­nity was un­der­scored by her own de­pres­sion di­ag­no­sis and how dif­fi­cult it was for her to get care.

A ninth-grader spoke about how her mom ended up in jail af­ter be­ing beaten up by her fa­ther.

A sixth-grader wants to be a doc­tor, but wor­ries that her jour­ney will be much harder be­cause she is fe­male.

And a sopho­more sees how hard it is for the folks in her neigh­bor­hood who come home from prison to re-en­ter so­ci­ety.

Most of the kids I talked to said it feels like adults aren’t try­ing to help them or do much for their fu­tures.

This con­test was aimed at help­ing kids work on their writ­ing and pub­lic speak­ing, and they did their jobs on that front.

But it was the kids do­ing the teach­ing, too.

And their sto­ries were a com­pelling re­minder to the coun­try’s divided, bick­er­ing adults that it’s time we do our jobs, too.

Photo by Frank Gal­lagher

McKenzie Turner, 15, won third place for her speech on gun vi­o­lence at the One World Ed­u­ca­tion con­test.

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