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Movie Review: The First Grader (2010)

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The First Grader

Source: Wikipedia

Plot Summary (Taken from IMDB): The true story of an 84 year-old Kenyan villager and ex Mau Mau freedom fighter who fights for his right to go to school for the first time to get the education he could never afford.

My Review: One of the best aspects of the film is the characters. The main character Marugue is a resilient spirit who has survived the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya. After enduring much hardship and tragic losses, Marague wants to better himself by attending school for the first time. His teacher, Jane Obinchu,  is the kind and bold.  Also, the other children lighten the story with song and dance, but a couple of them also bring out the best of Marugue.

Another good aspect of the film is the use of its setting, the country of Kenya in Africa.  It made the experience of the main character Maruge very palpable for the viewer. For instance, you see how simple his house is, a structure made of logs and the surrounding land almost bare except for a small garden and a goat. You also sympathize with him when you see how far he has to walk to get to the primary school.

Besides the characters and the use of its setting, the cinematography made the film powerful. The flashbacks are positioned so that the viewer slowly gets to know Maruge and see how traumatized he is by his terrible past.  The African vocals heard during certain scenes provide a meditative atmosphere for the viewer to think about the film as the movie progresses.

In addition to the characters, setting, and the cinematography, the film provides excellent commentary on the value of an education. One of the most striking scenes in the film involves the adult education school, which reflects so many of today’s public schools. Another powerful scene occurs when Maruge forces education officials to see why good teachers are necessary. Other commentary occurs in the form of lines like, “You never stop learning until you have soil in your ears.”

Overall, this was a very poignant film. Due to the strong violence and empowering message, I recommend this film for high school students and up.

 

 

 

 

Written by Serena Zola

August 4, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Bullying and Me: The Full Story

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Authoress Note:  There will be some profanity on this post. It is not because I enjoy cursing, but because the people around me involved in my experiences do.  Also, names have been changed to protect identity.

   *****

  Kids will be kids.

Words are just words.

Just ignore it.

Not everyone is going to like you.

These are a few things that I’ve heard to excuse bullying when I was being bullied as well as today when bullying is brought up in the news. As if  bullying is dust can be brushed away. It is not that easy.  I’ve mentioned my experience being bullied before on previous youth op-eds, saying that I got called “ugly” and “retard” for making good grades. That is not even the half of it.

My bullying experience started one day during lunch in 10th grade. I was almost finished eating when a girl’s voice called my name. I turned to see Nadia and her friend Nikki staring at me.

“Give me some candy!” Nadia snarled.

Turning back to my food, I said in a calm, firm voice, “No.”

“Ugly ass.” Nadia hissed as Nikki giggled. Throughout 10th and 11th grade, Nadia and Nikki were my enemies and they took the time to tease me whenever they felt like it. It sucked because they were in three of my six classes that I had.

In addition to Nadia and Nikki,  I had boys and girls who teased me in Literature & Composition class in 10th and 11th grade. They made fun of me because I liked reading and made good grades. It really hurt me because it was my favorite subject  and enjoying it subject was just a part of who I was.

Another thing that stung was that none of my classmates who were bystanders stood up for me. They probably didn’t want to be bullied themselves, but their inaction felt just as bad as getting teased.

When you have some people tease you and nobody sticks up for you, you end up thinking that no one cares about you.

I wanted to scream “You don’t know me!” at the jerks. Yet, I couldn’t. Any huge disruption in the class resulted in my teacher giving everybody essays. Sometimes, we got two or three in one class period. Despite what my classmates thought, I hated doing them.

All the bullies mentioned have one thing in common: they were black. It is not cool for black kids to be smart. If you really get noticed for it like I did, then you’re in trouble. In middle and high school, it isn’t cool for anyone to get noticed for being smart. Yet,  for young minorities, it is considered taboo because they aren’t portrayed as smart in society that often. Just look at television and the news  if you don’t believe me.

Looking back, I probably wouldn’t have been so affected by bullying if I hadn’t been so insecure before the bullying started. Since 9th grade, I was extremely aware of how different I was from other black girls. Instead of shopping, I enjoyed playing video games. Instead of listening to rap and R & B, I enjoyed alternative rock and soundtrack music.  Instead of watching BET, I enjoyed watching cartoons  from Japan.

I had a hard time making friends, especially with other girls. Before the bullying started, I’d managed to make one new friend that was female and different like I was. However, the bullying still hurt me  because I felt like an outsider among my own race. You see, the friend I’d made wasn’t black; she was a Mexican girl named Rose.

I didn’t tell any adults about being bullied because I’d figured no one would understand. Most teachers wanted to leave disruptions outside the classroom and focus on learning. My parents were a slightly different story. My mother wanted me to tell her so she could talk to the teacher. My father told me how he was bullied and how he became strong.

I didn’t want the bullying to go away. In fact, I knew it wouldn’t go away even if I had told someone, because one bully is easily replaced by another.

I only wanted to know that it was okay to be different, that it was okay to be myself. I also wanted to know that it was possible for some people who don’t know me to accept me.

In order to become strong in the face of bullying, you need a good foundation of self-esteem. That foundation should be made by the parents from the very moment a child is born. My mother, as good as she can be, had been making me feel like I wasn’t good enough.  My father did his best to empathize with me, but his praise wasn’t enough.

While I felt smart at school, I felt like a stupid failure at home. To compensate for the approval I didn’t get at home, I worked harder than I usually did at school. I had always made the honor roll at the end of the semester, but now I wanted to make an A or B throughout the semester on everything.

The combination of bullying at school and emotional stress at home started to make me depressed in 10th grade. The following year, it felt like I was being bullied more often because of the pressure teachers were putting on students to pass the graduation tests. My school and many others needed to make a successful academic yearly performance in order for the county to keep its accreditation. As a result of the added pressure, I became even more depressed and hated the school’s guts. Were we just tools to be used to make the school look good?

The cracks in my resilience came the night before I turned sixteen. My mother told me goodnight and that I couldn’t do anything right even though I was sixteen. The following day after school, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to die. If I was nothing more than a freak at school and a failure at home, then what was the point of living anymore?

I spent the rest of that year trying very hard to answer that question with hope. It was a blur of depression and suicidal thoughts like me jumping off a freeway pass. I hadn’t written anything since my sixteen birthday. To cease writing when it had given me freedom to express myself  was a  sign that I had truly given up on life.

I had decided to kill myself on New Year’s Day so I could truly experience the feeling of a new beginning. Only problem was, I didn’t know how. I had been spending the holidays at my sister’s apartment so I was unfamiliar with what could be used to end my life. I wanted to jump of the roof of the building, but didn’t know how to get there.

Then I realized I had a headache from thinking too hard and a very small voice told me how it would suck to kill myself and make my family sad. Therefore, I told my sister and my mother about my feelings. I still didn’t want to live, but I didn’t want to make people sad either.

My sister empathized with me somewhat, but  my mother couldn’t. She had tried changing the way she communicated with me for a day or so, but soon fell back into her old habits. I was still depressed, but because I cared about making my family happy, I trudged on. Then, something happened that brought my spirit back to life a little more.

During a Spanish class in my junior year, a loud argument had broken out between Nadia and another boy named Kerry. It had caught the attention of the entire class. I never found out why they were arguing because Kerry’s next words had me stunned.

“DUCK ASS HOE!” he screamed at Nadia over and over.

She stared down at her desk forlorn, looking the same way I felt when I got bullied. Kerry noticed her expression and said cruelly, “Yeah, go ahead and cry!”

At that point, my teacher intervened and kicked Kerry out. I hadn’t stood up for Nadia  because I didn’t know what to say. I was still staring at her, feeling a mixture of pity and confusion. I’d hadn’t considered her or my other bullies human until that moment. Why was this happening to me and Nadia?

Obviously, I couldn’t ask Nadia that. She may have gone from being the bully to being a victim, but she still didn’t like me. In fact, I divined that she had been bullied before she ever met me. Therefore, she probably felt as mistrustful as I did when I was being bullied.

To find answers, I started reading our city’s teen newspaper. The newspaper featured news stories, personal essays, and artwork from inner city teens. I wanted to see if there were stories on bullying that were similar to mine or Nadia’s.

There were two that caught my attention. One story was by a girl who had been bullied since grade school and started dressing provocatively and using profanity in high school so no one would tease her. It worked, but she didn’t like the way she had no self-respect. Eventually, she started being herself again and found new friends who assist her in raising her self-esteem.

The other story was by an intelligent black boy who wished that more of his black peers would reach their full potential. He explains how his classmates would tease him about using SAT level words and how ignorant and degrading they were being by dressing in hip-hop styles and addressing each other with profanity.

Just then a soft, teenage boy’s voice in my head created an epiphany. It said, “Things are rough all over.”

The voice belonged to Ponyboy Curtis, the main character of the classic coming-of-age book The Outsiders. I’d been in love with that book since I’d first read it in middle school, but I never realized how much it applied to my life until the Spanish class incident. Like Ponyboy, I had a huge lesson to learn about people.

My bullies were just people who wanted to be accepted just as much as I did. They were doing a bad thing for a good reason because they saw no other alternative. They expect little of themselves, because other people do. In order to stand up for themselves and make themselves feel better, they turned to bullying.

Upon realizing this, I forgave my bullies and vowed to hone my writing skills so that I could creatively and realistically tell my side of things. I still had other demons to fight off and they would eventually break me again in college. However, I took some pride in knowing that I had survived bullying.

Since I graduated from high school, I have read many tragic stories involving bullying. In fact, it seems almost every week I hear of a bullycide (i.e. suicide due to bullying) via the blog Ronkempmusic. Some of kids were bullied even worse than I was, because I was NEVER cyberbullied. Nonetheless, I’ve struggled for many years trying to find the perfect words to explain my feelings.

The truth is no one is perfect.  We all make mistakes, some bigger than others. No one is ever all good or all bad. It is not right for bullies to torment others, but it is also not right to label bullies as monsters as I once did.

Furthermore, it is important for bystanders to try to do something if they witness bullying. Even in my stunned state, I could have yelled, “Shut up!” when Nadia was getting teased. It would have been awkward, but it might have been life saving too. After all, Nadia could have been pushed over the edge like I was and killed herself, leaving me  feeling guilty and still confused.

Thankfully, I saw Nadia again my senior year. She transferred out of a class I was in, it seems she still didn’t like me, but that was fine. At least, it provided closure; I was never bullied again by anyone.

I end my story with one last lesson for those being bullied. Throughout my torment, I never ceased being myself. I kept reading,  making good grades, and doing whatever made me happy. It annoyed the heck of my tormentors, but it was sweet revenge sometimes.

In the words of  The Outsiders’ author S.E. Hinton, “Stay gold.” You may get dented emotionally for being yourself, but don’t let who you are get eaten away. Stay gold.

Written by Serena Zola

March 5, 2013 at 1:34 PM

Posted in Youth Op-Eds

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Op-Ed: 2 Girls VS Bullying

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The school year has barely started and I’m already shocked by two girls and their stories of dealing with bullying. One involves a girl who became Miss Teen USA and the other involves a girl who got free plastic surgery. Of the two, the latter is more thought-provoking.

The girl who went under the knife is called Nadia IIse. According to the article, she wanted the surgery because she was getting bullied for her awkward looks.

I understand how she felt. In high school, I got called “ugly” and “retard” for making good grades and not being a typical black girl. Those words hurt and made me feel really out-of-place, especially among other black students.

In spite of this, I did not change who I was as a person.

I wish Nadia’s parents had talked her out of the surgery instead of giving her permission. I wish they had told her that who she was inside is more valuable than her outer looks.

Despite the fact that the majority of youth culture and the media thrive on people’s looks, there are some people who care about something more. One of those people is Logan West, an 18-year-old who became Miss Teen USA in May.

Logan was bullied for a reason similar to mine in 7th grade; she didn’t “act her skin tone.” Yet, like me, she refused to change herself. Before becoming Miss Teen USA, she became Connecticut’s Outstanding Teen and created the anti-bullying program Bully Proof.

Recently, Nadia IIse started school and was told by some of her classmates that she was beautiful. I hope that her physical transformation doesn’t cause her inner self to change for the worst.

Similar Post:

8 Things to Save a Life Part 1

Written by Serena Zola

August 18, 2012 at 5:15 PM

Bullying: The Education Connection

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It seems like every month I hear the news of another young person who has committed suicide due to bullying. I’ve seen many people play the blame game with other people, but what most people don’t seem to realize is that we need to start taking a look at the reasons behind bullying.

From my personal experience of being bullied as well as my own research, I’ve concluded one single reason for bullying: being different.

This can have many definitions, but it can be narrowed down when defined by things such as:

  • race or ethnicity
  • gender
  • religion
  • economic status

When these things trickle down to grade school students and cause being different or not to be defined by just two things: being popular or unpopular.  For example, I was bullied because of something considered unpopular among minority students: making good grades.

Until recently, these things were considered harmless categorizes that would disappear after high school ended. Today, some kids aren’t living that long because they believe that just because some people say that they are unpopular in school, they will be unpopular to everyone later on.

So, what’s exactly sending this message?

There are three things that a grade school student is influenced by:

  • the parents and other adults
  • the peers
  • the mass media

Depending on what environment the student is exposed to, they can be influenced by one, two, or all three of these things.

When a child is just a child, the person who has the most influence on them is the parent. Once a child enters puberty, the peers and the mass media enter as the child starts to figure out who they are and who they want to be.

In my case, my parents raised me to think that an education is the most important thing. As a child, I was perfectly fine with that because my peers still saw each other as nothing more than classmates. As a preteen and adolescent, I began to have a need to find myself and find a place among my peers because it seemed like everybody was categorizing themselves in order to identify themselves. You were either “popular”, or “unpopular” depending on how you represented a certain thing like gender or race.

While I was going through this, I realized that the mass media was partly responsible for the popular or unpopular way of thinking. My black minority peers did what they saw on television or heard on the radio, dancing the latest hip-hop dances and dressing provocatively or “gangster”. Since the mass media made these things seem “cool”, my peers thought that by doing these things that they would be cool then and in the future. As they did this, they dumbed down on their studies because “cool people” didn’t care about an education.

For a while, I listened to hip-hop and R & B because I felt I had to. After all, that’s what most of my black peers were doing and to do otherwise would make me an outcast. As a result, I felt fake and miserable for about a year.

At some point, I realized that if making good grades already made me weird then why be so concerned about doing other things that made me weirder if I enjoyed it? Why care too much about what others think?

After that, I became friends with a Mexican girl who introduced me to rock music, which I discovered I enjoyed. Like me, she also made good grades, but she didn’t care about what others thought and taught me to be the same.

Besides my peers, my teachers and parents also had good and bad effects on me. Some of my teachers and one of my parents encouraged my writing ability and praised me for my good grades. On the other hand, the other parent and other teachers made me feel like my best wasn’t good enough.  This was especially done when I had to please others instead of myself.  Consider a quote from a seventh grader from an online article from TIME magazine about “No Child Left Behind”:

“If I hadn’t passed the [state tests] I would have cried and thought, ‘Why are people smarter than me? Why am I not smarter?’ Sometimes I cry because there is so much pressure. I do try to do my best, but sometimes I get an answer wrong.”

Everyone around a student needs to support them well by teaching them that their best is good enough, that who they are is good enough, and find things outside the typical knowledge that supports this, things like this article. If we shared more things like this with people who can relate, then we can make a positive difference.

Written by Serena Zola

January 21, 2012 at 2:00 PM

Bullying: A Rant and Some Tips

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It seems like all year that I’ve been hearing things about bullying on the news and elsewhere. The headline usually involves a youth suicide, a youth beating, or an attempt to raise awareness about bullying. The latter is the most vexing to me, because it seems to focus on either GBLTQ youth (i.e. gay, bi-sexual, lesbian, transgender, queer/questioning) or asinine suggestions on how to prevent bullying. Most people think this is just a discrimination or education issue.

Until late 2010, it didn’t seem like we needed to put much effort into bullying prevention, because youth suicides and bullying casualties didn’t seem to happen much. One bullied kid kills themselves, and we just pass an anti-bullying policy in schools. Then, in September, five young people kill themselves because they were either gay or perceived to be gay. This event causes many musicians, authors, celebrities, politicians, activists, and other people to either raise awareness about bullying or come up with solutions.

Phoebe Prince. Jaheem Herrera. Jessie Haffer.

These are just a few of many young people who have committed suicide before the September’s Children’s Tragedy, not necessarily because they were gay, but because they were different.

It is for this reason, as well as intolerance, that caused the September’s Children to take their own lives. It is for this reason that more youth will continue to do this unless something is done.

Some adults say, “Kids will be kids.” Some teens do nothing or participate in the bullying for fear of being bullied themselves or to fit in.

The whole point of being a teenager is figuring out who you want to be, not what somebody else tells you to be.

How are teachers supposed to care about their students when all they’ve been told to do is prepare them for college and get good test scores to make the school look good?

How are parents supposed to raise their kids well if they either refuse to listen to their child’s views or assume they already know what is best for them?

How are students supposed to find who they are when they have to worry about being normal?

Parents, teachers, and students must be involved with one another for non-educational reasons as well as educational ones. Just because a student is making good grades, doesn’t mean that they are doing well. Adults around a student’s life need to be willing to ask, “How are you?” or “What’s wrong?” if they are troubled. Parents and teachers need to listen to students without judging them and try to see things from their point of view.

Students need to keep an open mind when dealing with their peers as well as adults. When it comes to peers, they shouldn’t make assumptions based on how a person looks or what clique they are from. They need to get to know a peer’s head and heart before they judge. In addition, they need to be willing to talk to a parent or another adult if they are having issues. Even though adults may not understand what it is like to be a teen today, if they are good people, then they should be willing to at least listen.

Ultimately, the key to ending bullying, or at least reducing it, is acceptance and tolerance of people’s differences and the willingness to find out what we have in common with each other.

According to the book, The Geeks Will Inherit The Earth, teens who are ostracized in high school because they are different will be admired for who they are in college and beyond. However, some teens can’t afford to wait that long.

Now is the time to unite and end bullying the right way; MAKE IT STOP!!

Written by Serena Zola

November 2, 2011 at 4:13 PM

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