The following is an excerpt from a memoir I am writing about growing up in Oakland, California, in a broken family while interfacing with many systems. —Barbara Bell, Youth Voice Correspondent for The Chronicle of Social Change
Imagine a seven-year-old growing up in East Oakland, attending public schools, and living in poverty. In addition, she is trying to become the smartest little girl.
For Destiny, attending school was the best part of growing up in broken systems, a broken family and foster care. Destiny did not think of her home as a foster home since she was with family. When she was older, she realized that the person who had come visit every six months was her county social worker. A white man would come visit her and ask questions about clean clothes and food. Destiny would say everything was okay.
On September 2, 1995, when she was in second grade, Destiny was placed in an “early bird” class. The class was separated into two different groups: “early birds” and “late birds.” Destiny assumed that the late bird students were smarter than the early bird students because the late bird students would laugh at the early bird students. She didn’t know for sure that this was the case but that is how it appeared to her.
So at the age of seven, Destiny learned to work hard to be as smart as the other students. Destiny’s entire childhood, she felt as if she had to go beyond to prove she was just as good as other people. Attending school was a breath of fresh air. Destiny enjoyed learning and trying to be one of the smartest students in the class! She liked the recognition from her classmates when she wrote in cursive. The little boys she thought were bad would say, “Destiny is really smart.”
Just a week after Destiny was placed in the second grade early bird class, her teacher said, “Destiny you are in the late bird class.” At that moment, Destiny felt a sense of happiness and acceptance from her teacher and peers. Her other environment was not the best environment but attending elementary school for Destiny meant good days! Destiny did not think about social workers at school until she got older, and one day an African American man came to her class stating that he was a social worker. When Destiny didn’t see social workers it was a good day.
Destiny struggled with not wanting to feel different even though she knew she was different. She knew she was different when she had to take an exam over and over to prove that she was just as smart as the other students. Walking to school, Destiny saw teenagers and older adults smoking and selling drugs. Even though she saw a lot of negative activities on her way to school, Destiny stayed focused on enjoying learning in elementary school because she knew at an early age that education would help her get out of the ‘hood one day and the ghetto streets of East Oakland.