magine you’re in a classroom packed with 30 kids and a teacher, yet you feel alone. Imagine being teased and cussed at for raising your hand to solve a math problem. Now imagine being a fan of Madonna, Paula Abdul and New Kids on the Block while your most of your classmates listen to Geto Boys and 2 Live Crew.
I don’t have to imagine those scenarios, because I survived them. I use the term “survive” because it was a challenge to maintain my sanity almost every day of my days in seventh and eight grades.
I was teased, threatened and sexually harassed by a group of classmates who called me “White girl.” That was the most common nickname the clique used when referring to me. “Wannabe” was another moniker they loved.
Personally, I thought I was cool. I was smart and an active member in several school clubs. But my talents and personality weren’t appreciated by everyone. Although I was an African-American student attending a 95 percent African-American school, I was an outsider.
I didn’t speak much slang or listen to gangsta rap. I was in the journalism club and competed in oratorical contests. I spoke proper English and some classmates would say, “I don’t like you,” or “You ain’t better than us.” They’d even threaten to push me down the stairs. Their comments made me feel alone.
But that all changed when I started making journal entries. One of my favorite middle school teachers, Mrs. Pattie, gave us a year-long assignment to write daily in our journals. I wrote a detailed description of the taunting and how it made me feel. Mrs. Pattie gave me some good advice.
She said there always will be a few people in life who don’t want to see you happy. She explained that I had a lot of talent and that many artists, humanitarians and philosophers were ridiculed and rejected by people because they were different. She mentioned people that I aspired to be like, including Jesus Christ, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Oprah Winfrey. When she named all of those incredible people, it made me feel better.
While the middle school experience was at times overwhelming, I made it through with honors and a sense of accomplishment. I was able to make new friends who appreciated my so-called weirdness. I excelled in my studies at Cass Technical High School where I graduated in 1997. Additionally, I was the first person in my family to attend and graduate from college. I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University.
I couldn’t have achieved any of those feats without support from the adults in my life.
At 31 years old, I still write in a journal and reflect upon Mrs. Pattie’s advice. When I was in eighth grade, she became a trusted mentor, friend and role model. I think every young person deserves positive reinforcement and attention.
She and a few other caring adults inspired me to give back. In 2001, I dedicated myself to making a difference for youth and became a mentor with Alternatives for Girls in southwest Detroit. I’ve been an active volunteer with the organization for 10 years. For me, being a mentor has given my life purpose and meaning.
Studies have shown that children with mentors are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, gang activity and truancy. Not only does mentoring help youth, it also has great benefits to the mentor.
I’ve been so incredibly touched, moved and inspired by mentoring that last year I started a company called Empowered Flower Girl LLC. The company produces workshops, literature and clothing to motivate girls to live powerfully. Recently, we launched Chica Chat ™ workshops to combat drama, cyberbullying and cliques among middle school and high school girls.
It is my hope that the young people I reach through Empowered Flower Girl will see the benefits of giving back and pay it forward to future generations.
Rasheda Kamaria is a Detroit-area mentor, community service enthusiast and the CEO of Empowered Flower Girl LLC. She is featured in the May 2011 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine in the article “Being Bullied Changed My Life.” Visit www.empoweredflowergirl.com for tips and programs to combat bullying.