The Groundswell Conference of Portland Community College provides a place for students to be heard. Throughout each year, professors across the college search for compelling creative and academic student work to be presented at the Groundswell Conference in the spring. The 2020 Conference, which was supposed to be an intimate day full of sharing voices and refreshments, was unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19.
October 9, 2002. By all accounts, it is a gorgeous day to die in Florida. Placid sunlight beams down on the white roof of Raiford State Prison. From above the prison looks like a twelve-armed cross, twelve cellblocks forming limbs connected by a central beam. In a small room at the heart of the prison, brown curtained in front of the pane of viewing glass, several people gather to witness a woman's execution. Her name is Aileen Wuornos. She is the convicted murderer of six men and “America's first female serial killer.”
Eight years earlier, snug in my bed, I held one side of the same book, I Love You Stinky Face with my left hand. I had a blanket wrapped around my shoulders and a giant mound of pillows behind me. My mom sat next to me, holding the other side of the book. We had read it together so many times that I nearly had it memorized. She turned the page.
On every brisk morning, my father walked me the five, much too few, minute walk to school. We would pass a pine tree that towered above us, and each day acknowledge its growth. Soon after, we’d meet the crosswalk lady, who was always kind and encouraging. She helped my brothers through their very own bouts of school anxiety in the years after mine. I’d come to know her as the librarian who played the bagpipes in celebration on every last day of school, even following her retirement.
It is true that humans are an emotionally resilient species. Most of us can persist through trauma, in fact, almost everyone I know lives with it. But it ravishes you and leaves you scathed. When we are hurt beyond our capacity to cope, our brain protects us from the brunt force of the pain. We may act out, we may become reckless, we may even appear apathetic, but this is all in lieu of breaking down. This keeps us from attempting to traverse to the far-away promised land ourselves. Most importantly, it keeps us sane. We may appear out of character, but this emotional response ensures the stability and health of our future. It ensures that we will have a future.
I am eighteen now and I have never heard from her or seen her again. No phone calls, no letters, not a damn thing. I never even saw her around town ever again. I thank my adoptive mom and dad so much for telling me when I was young because it brings me a sense of love and sincerity knowing the truth. That day taught me to never take loved ones for granted, and I still have my court bear from when I was first adopted over fifteen years ago.
When you are homeless, all you have to rely on is somebody's compassion and/or empathy. Whether it be a church group coming by where you are camped handing out sack lunches that generally contained and peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a small bag of potato chips, a granola bar, and an apple or orange with a tiny little napkin and tiny styrofoam cups with hot chocolate or coffee in them or its some random stranger handing you a five, ten, or twenty dollar bill as you sit outside a business, generally a store of some kind, freezing to death because you have nowhere to go and starving cause you have had nothing to eat in days.
We neared the end of a talk that lasted almost the whole day and my friend asked if he would be seeing me again. I stopped for a moment, unable to explain. After a minute of blabbering nonsense, trying to make sense of my situation, I thought of a book my dad very ironically had me read when I was younger, Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. Although I had only read the first chapter, the horrifying example of India’s elephants and their training had always made a deep impression on me:
When I later researched this I learned that children were being brought from all over the country to Forest Grove to be “civilized”. After learning a little more about the Natives I decided to visit my high school again and ask about whether or not they have changed the curriculum since I have left or whether or not they started teaching about them more in classes and if I could meet with the vice-principal briefly, but the look that the secretary gave me was like I offended her.
In 2010, a male student was asked to remove his “‘do-rag’” prior to entering his school (Kupchick 79). Despite adhering to the request of the teacher, the student was sent to the principal's office for cursing and exhibiting aggressive behavior. Upon further events, the student tried to leave the office. Only to be stopped by the assistant principal. Due to attempting to push the assistant principal out of the way the student was handcuffed by a “‘school resource officer’” and then arrested (Kupchick 79). Instances such as this one, illustrate the improper methodation of dealing with children of color within schools. Moreover relating the predominant disengagement of students in combat to unfair and harsh punishment.
To Those Who Don't Know Their Color:
For every black child who has never been black enough: not enough melanin to be included. I'm speaking to you. "You sound 'White,'" they would always accuse. I never understood it. Because I was able to speak proper English? An "Uncle Tom" I have always been since March 17th, 1985.