39 Reasons: #5 - Because of PE

 

At times you could catch her smiling without restraint where you could see all of her teeth – but most of the time, just before you get a chance to share her joy, she’d closed her lips around her tiny crooked teeth

She’s the oldest of three and the idol of her little brothers

I was proud to know her as she struggled through classes and served as a role model for little brothers -  she held it together for those little guys and encouraged them to study and stay focused

Her teachers were proud of her for showing up every day and for making a genuine effort to catch up after only joining formal schooling for half of her childhood

She wasn’t always this way - it took about four years before she gained the confidence to ask for help

I had accompanied her to a presentation she was invited to give to city council on leadership in the community, she was so scared, but as soon as that mic turned on, her full smile cut through the room, her 4-foot tall frame had doubled - she was a natural public speaker

She spoke using all of the words she had learned, evoking so much feeling that all you could hear in the council chamber was her amplified voice, amplified life experience and the sound of being heard by people she never had a chance to speak to until now

She expressed how much it hurts to lose your language as an indigenous person and how important it is that her brothers grow up to speak the language

She shared her dreams to become an esthetician who owns her own business

I was surprised when her teacher called me to tell me she had stopped showing up for class

As usual, she showed up to volunteer after school, so I asked how things were going, she said they were fine

I sat down next to her, tried to look at her face, but she averted her eyes and closed her lips around her teeth – no sound

I changed the question and asked, “what’s been happening at school?” she continued to stare down and muffled some words that I could barely hear, “I just don’t feel like going, I feel uncomfortable”

She told me that in gym class some classmates make fun of her accent

It was something that no one saw or felt except her and her peers

It was something that I only learned about by asking, waiting, changing the question, and asking again

It was something she shared with me and I was grateful – I reminded her how powerful her speech was, how she hushed the room with her voice, story and accent, she couldn’t help but burst open in that smile she had at her speech  

We talked about how to respond the next time this happens to her or she sees it happening to someone else. She decided that the best space for her would be a girls’ only sports group where youth could bring games to share and where the rules of engagement were built together by everyone present. We did that and she showed up, she built the confidence to continue speaking up, continue asking questions and continue public speaking.

She is still conservative with her smiles and while she considers going back to school to finish her diploma, she continues to define friendships by respect and acceptance and her little brothers are growing into fine young men, too


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  • Rita_Reddy
    Aww! I love her!