It was the first day of 5th grade at a new school, I was excited to make new friends and have a fresh start. I came into school, my clothes fresh with a brand new book bag and shoes.
My teacher, Mr. O, was a short white man with his head balding in the middle. By the second week, I realized there was no need to bring any school supplies, the teacher did not teach. We weren’t expected to do any work. In the morning Mr. O would pass out a worksheet that ended up on the floor. Some students would complete it and turn it in, but the others treated class like a party.
I immediately bumped heads with one of the “cool” girls in the class. This made the whole class dislike me, boys and girls alike. The first fight I ever got into was with a boy, and the teacher was too scared of him to step in. After everyone saw me lose, the girls wanted their turn. It was a non-stop battle almost everyday. My mother was worried for me because I would come home with scratches and my clothes ripped.
We went to the school to report the bullying and the school told the students, resulting in them jumping me and calling me a “rat.” I eventually just stopped attending school out of fear until my mother transferred me to somewhere else.
By the time I got to the 11th grade I had been in 25-30 fights and was considered a badass. I’m not going to lie, I started to like the adrenaline rush and I wasn’t scared anymore. I won some and I lost some. In high school I rolled with a gang of dudes from my block that I grew up with. We were from West Philly, and we had a lifelong beef with North Philly. One day I didn’t come to school and the boys ended up fighting. They called my phone and sent me a video of one of the North Side females hitting boys; you can guess why I got that phone call.
The next day I went to school. I had class with her, and we sat at the same table. It didn’t take too much planning because, truthfully, I didn’t care about the time or place. I was looking for a way to antagonize or provoke her into hitting me first. I sat down at the table across from her and stared at her. I didn’t take my eyes off her. When she finally looked up, I asked, “Why you keep staring at me?” She immediately took the bait, stood up, and yelled, “Bitch I can look wherever I want to look, I’ll slap the shit out of you!” I stood up, took my hoodie off and attacked her.
The teacher sent me to the principal’s office to receive my suspension, I sat down and looked down at my hand, it was green and had a lump as big as a golf ball. They sent me to the hospital to get x-rays done, and the doctor told me I broke my 5th Metacarpal. He told me that I would need surgery, and to wear a cast for about 3 months.
I was fine until it was time to go back for surgery. I told my friends but they didn’t seem to care or even wish me luck before my surgery, they called me the next day asking me to fight someone else.
This experience was eye opening for me. I realized that I become someone I didn’t recognize. All those confrontations help me today to embrace different ways of handling conflict, and to also stay away from certain groups of people. Today I look back and see that I became a product of my environment. I carry this with me as a reminder of how far I have come in my life. I take pride in maintaining my composure and protecting my peace.
Public school review reported that Philadelphia is home to the most dangerous schools in the U.S. School should be a safe space for children and a environment for learning and growing, this is the reason for the generational cycle of drop outs and low academic achievement. When safety is absent kids have to develop new identities to survive and being a straight A doesn’t fit into the characteristics.
I’m very proud of myself for killing that person I used to be and now I use it to help others and myself with conflict. This also helped me decide to study Criminal Justice. I want to use the thing I learn to help others that currently need the advice I once did.
Zemyah is a Freshman, Class of 2026. She is pursuing a major in Criminal Justice. She is from Philadelphia.
Email Zemyah at: email@example.com