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My Friends Helped Me Fight Racism!
Even though Abby, 18, was the only black girl in her circle of friends, she never felt like her skin color set her apart—until she came face-to-face with an ugly attitude.
As told to: Kierna Mayo
I'd been looking for an after-school job for months to help save up for college, so I was super-excited to start my first day as a hostess at a trendy restaurant. I felt really lucky because my friend Becca offered to train me as her replacement after she quit to focus on school. When we got to the restaurant, I stood at the hostess stand and memorized the menu. It wasn't required, but I wanted to make a good impression when the manager arrived. I'd never met him and really wanted him to like me.
Fifteen minutes later, the manager walked in and things got weird. "Hi, I'm Abby," I said, reaching out to shake his hand. He paused, barely touching me. Awkward. I wondered what could be wrong. I thought maybe he was just upset about Becca leaving. Then he asked to speak to her privately. Something just didn't feel right, but I told myself it would all be fine.
I was so wrong. Becca came back gasping and crying hysterically. "He said he won't hire you because you're black!" she blurted out.
Suddenly, I felt like there was a whirlwind around me. I just stood there, stunned, unable to grasp what she was saying. "He's afraid he'll lose business when customers see you at the counter," she continued. I didn't feel anything—not anger, sadness, or fear. All I could think was, Is this really happening?
FINDING THE COURAGE
Race has never been an issue for me, even though there aren't many black people in my hometown. Everyone is totally open-minded; that's why I couldn't believe I had actually been so blatantly discriminated against. I'm the only black girl in my circle of friends, but no one treats me differently. I've known my best friends, Lily, Irene, Becca, and Alice, for years—they're like my sisters.
It was all so confusing to me that I didn't know what to do. I'm a pretty quiet person and I don't like to draw attention to myself. On our way home, Becca went from crying to being pissed. "You have to fight this," she said. When I told Lily, Irene, and Alice, they told me to fight too. Part of me wanted to forget the whole thing, but my friends' anger made me realize I had to stand up for myself and for anyone else who could be in a similar situation. Alice's dad is a lawyer, and he took my case for free! We filed a lawsuit for discrimination and a violation of my civil rights.
As word spread around school, everyone asked how to help. It was crazy to see how many people cared. All of a sudden, girls who had never spoken to me asked me if things were okay. I wasn't used to being the topic of so much conversation. It was like everyone was rooting for me. A few weeks later, Lily mentioned staging a protest to make more people aware. "Let's not make it a big thing," I said, resisting. I didn't want anyone to think that I was upsetting our peaceful town. But once again, my friends had my back, and I felt braver with their support.
To let people know the plan, we sent out text messages and created a Facebook Event group. On the day of the protest, about 20 people met up at my house, made posters, then walked over to the restaurant where even more kids met us. Up until the last minute I felt like a wimp, but I was relieved and exhilarated that we were actually taking a stand. People were honking in support as they drove by; it was so powerful to see! The restaurant manager even came outside and talked to my lawyer and to the police who were there. But we had done our research and knew that as long as we didn't block the entryway, we were legal. There was nothing he could do to stop us. That day, I knew I was making a difference.
The restaurant denied discriminating against me, but I know how terrible it felt to be judged by my skin color, and I wanted to do whatever I could to stop this from happening again. After about a year of back-and-forth, my lawyer and I settled the case with the restaurant for $25,000—more than I would have made by working there. I'm using some for college and saving the rest. My real reward, though, was when the owners were issued a permanent court order saying they could not discriminate.
My friends got me through a situation I never imagined I'd be in and encouraged me to take action. Together we made a difference. When something happens that isn't right, having friends behind you makes you so much stronger. It's when you look over and see people standing with you that you know you'll have the strength to stand up for yourself.
What If It Happens to You?
1. Write it out. If you feel that you're being treated differently because you're a girl, or you're gay, or because of your race, jot down the time, day, and everything that happened. Remember any specific quotes? No detail is too small! You'll need that info if you decide to do something about it later.
2. Don't be ashamed. Even if you're not sure whether what happened was discrimination or plain old rudeness, don't keep it to yourself! Tell your friends, a teacher, or another adult to get advice and to help you make sense of the situation.
3. Get answers. If you know you have to take a stand, check out aclu.org for info on how to take action.CHAPTER 2
Nothing Can Stop Me From Playing Soccer!
When Bree, 17, lived through an accident that took her leg, her drive to compete kicked into even higher gear—and with the help of her team, she's determined to get back on the field.
As told to: Jessica Press
One perfectly sunny Saturday last fall, my club soccer team was holding a car wash fund-raiser and having the best time. We were in shorts and bikinis and had so much to be happy about—we'd won our games the weekend before and we were excited for a game the next day. Plus I'd just accepted a soccer scholarship to Brevard College, a division II school that I couldn't wait to play for! We were psyched to make our final club team year awesome, and take our early lead as far as we could. I play pretty much every position, from offense to goal, and my team nickname was the Beast, because I'm really aggressive, I don't let injuries stop me, and I hate losing.
Halfway through the car wash, my teammate Chelsea wanted to get her SUV washed, so she jumped in her car as I pointed her to an empty spot. But as she was pulling in, her foot slipped; she was wearing flip-flops, and she pressed too hard on the gas. Her car flew at me, pinning me against a wall! I collapsed as blood started gushing around me. Chelsea ran to me, saying, "I'm so sorry—I love you, I'm sorry!" "It's okay," I said. I was woozy and tried take deep breaths to stay calm. "I love you too."
An ambulance took me to the hospital, where my boyfriend, Shane, was waiting to hug and kiss me and tell me everything would be okay. But I must have been in total shock, because I couldn't even cry.
The next thing I knew, I was waking up in a hospital room surrounded by my parents, my two brothers, and Shane—it was six days later! The doctors had put me in a coma to spare me the tremendous pain and shock I'd have felt during the surgeries I needed. I woke up feeling numb and out of it, but when I reached down to feel my leg, all I felt was a pillow. "Where's my leg?" I asked. That's when the doctor started talking in a calm voice, saying it had come down to losing my left leg, or losing my life—the blood flow to my leg had been severed—and my leg had to go. In that moment, my "Beast" attitude kicked right in: all I could think about was getting back on the field to play soccer. "When can I run?" I asked. The doctor said it would take months of physical therapy with a prosthetic leg before I'd be at that point. I made the doctor show me what was left of my legs—the wounds were so deep that they looked like train tracks running over my skin. It was really hard to see—you never think your own body will scare you. But I willed myself to look at it; I'd never been afraid, and I'd always faced things instead of hiding from them. And when my team visited, the first thing I did was show them too: I wanted it to be out in the open, something we didn't ignore or whisper about. I'd never had fakeness with my friends, and I didn't want it now.
I spent the next 32 days in the hospital and had eight surgeries. The doctors had told my parents that I might not be able to use my right leg again, either. But I felt like that was just a bigger dare to prove everyone wrong.
So I started doing physical rehab every day—when I thought I couldn't take the pain of it, I'd remind myself of my goal: to get on the field. And two months later, I did what I set out to do and shocked my doctors—I wiggled my toes, moved my ankle, and was on my way to walking with a prosthetic!
Some days are still so hard: there are nights when I wake up from horrible pain in my leg. "Stop hurting!" I plead with my foot, literally talking to it. There are times when I want to go back to the way things were—like when I can't get to a bathroom without help, or when I look at my leg and don't recognize it as my own. Shane has been amazing about getting me over my self-consciousness: "I never dated your leg," he said. "I date you—and you're still beautiful." And my teammates have been incredible—they visited me every day, they held bake sales to raise money for me, and, most important, they still include me when they hang out and treat me the same as before. As much as we love soccer, we love each other more and are just as loyal off the field as we are when we're on it.
But it's not just my friends who have shown me incredible support: my school coach chose me as a team captain—I wore my captain armband to every game as I cheered from the bench. And the coach at Brevard College said he still wants me on the team—the scholarship is still mine! That makes me even more determined to get on the field and to fulfill my dreams of becoming a physed teacher and high school soccer coach. I know this may sound crazy, but if this accident had to happen to anyone on my team, I'm glad it was to me. I've always been tough, and this has just made me tougher—and more sure about what I want in life.CHAPTER 3
We Fought Our Smut List!
Nothing hurts more than being called a slut—except when everyone laughs about it! But Sophia, 17, and her friends refused to be degraded.
As told to: Rachel Bertsche
A huge, crazy-loud group of guys—mostly giant, burly football players and their friends—had gathered in the cafeteria, laughing, fist-bumping, and high-fiving as they surrounded a guy named Jarrett. Ugh. Jarrett was known for writing disgusting lists that ranked girls in our grade based on how "hot" they were. This obnoxious crowd could only mean one thing—Jarrett had written another one.
I'd been on his eighth and ninth grade lists, where he talked about my "porn star looks," and "angry eyebrows." It made me so uncomfortable. I remember thinking, Holy crap! This is what guys think about me?!? This time around, even though I knew that whatever he wrote about me probably wasn't going to be nice, I was still sickly curious to find out what the list said.
Within minutes, copies of the list were scattered all over the cafeteria. My friend snatched one up, shouting, "Sophia, you're number one!" It was so much worse than I'd thought! He ranked us all by number based on our face, breasts, legs, and butt, and wrote horrible comments about our races and religions, talked about girls giving oral sex, called some alcoholics, and even noted girls who had gained weight.
Kids devoured the list all day. Guys would say to me, "What's up, Number One?" On the outside, I tried to shrug it off. I didn't want to give those guys the satisfaction of seeing me upset. But on the inside, I was angry. Girls on the list were crying because they felt violated. (My friend Carly, whom Jarrett had made fun of for being adopted, even punched him!) It made me so mad to see the mayhem he was causing. Many of the girls who weren't on the list were upset because they thought they weren't hot enough to get noticed—twisted! But in reality, the list made most of us feel like total crap. Getting the top ranking wasn't a prize for me. It was like eavesdropping on guys' locker room conversations—so gross! Jarrett was judging me on my body—he talked about my "ass and rack"—and so were all of the people who read the list. Of course I like to look good, but looks aren't everything. I'm also a varsity soccer player, a great singer, and a good friend. Why couldn't he notice that?
And the gossip got worse before it got better. The same day he handed out the list, Jarrett posted it on Facebook. It got taken down quickly, but not before a men's humor site reposted the entire thing, so he was getting more attention than ever.
A TIME FOR BONDING
A week after Jarrett released the list, one of the girls, Haley, invited all 50 of us on the list and our parents to meet at her house. The goal was to make ourselves feel better about the situation and to talk about what we could do at school so this never happened again.
We started off by joking that if we had created a list of hot guys, Jarrett wouldn't have even made it! But then we began to talk about how the list made us feel about ourselves. A lot of girls started breaking down because Jarrett had called out the things they were most insecure about. But there was so much support in the room! Annie, Ada, and Casey made witty comments to lighten the mood. Zoë would chime in, reminding us that we were gorgeous inside and out, no matter what Jarrett said. The group ended up being a great way for us to bond, and some of us hadn't even been friends beforehand. We started a Facebook group called "Unlisted," so we could continue talking online, and we came up with some great ideas to fight back!
A few weeks later, we all got our principal to expand sexual harassment training in class and require that all students participate, and administrators had T-shirts made that say "RESPECT" on the front and have a Martin Luther King Jr. quote on the back: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." Our mission is to remind students that you have to stand up for what's right, instead of laughing at something you know is wrong. One day, more than 800 kids and staff members who owned a shirt decided to wear it on the same day. Even some of the guys who had supported Jarrett earlier wore the shirts! It was so cool.
As for Jarrett, he transferred schools. He left before the school could punish him, but he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for creating and distributing the list. I'm still pissed at him, but I'm actually happy about what happened because people rallied around my friends and me, and we proved that we are more than just "asses and racks." We have personalities and brains, too—and when pushed, we can change minds, and even change lives.CHAPTER 4
I Refused To Cheer For My Attacker!
After being assaulted by the star of her high school's basketball team, Hillaire took a stand—and was hurt all over again.
As told to: Jane Bianchi
When Rakheem stepped to the foul line, I was shaking. Standing in my cheerleading uniform on the sideline of my Texas high school gym, I had no problem rooting for my basketball team—but I had a big problem rooting for him. Three months earlier at a house party, Rakheem had attacked me and forced me to have sex with him. He was arrested two days later and was sent to a different school temporarily. Now he was back, and my coach expected me to wave my arms in the air and chant, "2, 4, 6, 8, 10, come on Rakheem, put it in!"? No way.
It all started one Saturday night in October of my junior year, I went to a party at my classmate Jacob's house. About 20 school friends were there, so it felt like a safe place where I could let loose. I started taking shots and drinking beer.
Around 2:30 A.M., I was alone in a hallway when three huge guys pushed me into a game room. The door slammed behind me. They were all athletes from school: Rakheem and two other guys. I'd never had much contact with them, but I always thought they were nice. I didn't understand why they were being so aggressive.
Then suddenly one of Rakheem's friends grabbed me and pushed me down on the pool table. They were all strong—I couldn't fight back. Rakheem pulled me onto the floor as I was kicking and screaming and forced me to have sex with him. I was shocked by the horror of what was going on. I screamed, "Stop! Get off me!" but he wouldn't listen. Never in my life have I felt so terrified and helpless. Jacob heard me yelling and broke down the door. The three guys ran away, leaving me curled up in the fetal position, sobbing.
Excerpted from Inspiring True Teen Stories by Hearst Communications. Copyright © 2012 Hearst Communications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Hearst Communications, Inc..
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