It’s hard staying up late to finish hours of homework and then getting up early to hop trains and buses to get to school. What motivates you? For 19-year-old Ziqiu Zhang, from Brighton High School, it’s pure fear. “If I don’t go to college,” says Zhang, “my life is ruined.” Ariane Silva, 17, says her mother gets her up every day. “To be successful in life, I need to go to school,” says Silva, from Brighton High. “My mother taught me this.” Jalen Campbell, 18, from Brighton High, gets a certain joy from going to school. “I just like learning,” Campbell says, “and I like spending time with my friends.”
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One day at West Roxbury Academy, a book screamed out at me in large, bold print: “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander. It stopped me from rushing down the stairs during class transition. The paperback sat in the student teacher’s palm as if it were on display. The subtitle read: “Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” The cover photo was of an African-American behind bars. I thought to myself, “What in the world does this mean?” I remembered the term “Jim Crow” thanks to freshman year in history class. The Jim Crow era involved the official separation of blacks and whites in the late 1800s to mid 1900s in the US. The book seemed interesting. So I bought it. The first few pages exposed the main idea that African-Americans are imprisoned in massive numbers in this country. In fact, this means that an extraordinary percentage of black men in the US are banned from voting today -- depending on the state. I thought the civil rights movement changed things for us. But Alexander argues that the historic racial caste system never ended. If anything, she says, Uncle Sam merely redesigned it by keeping blacks down through the criminal justice system. Many of the blacks in jail, Alexander says, are by-products of the War on Drugs. According to the NAACP’s criminal justice fact sheet, five times as many whites use drugs as do African-Americans, yet African-Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites. Once these African-Americans join the felon class, Alexander says, many can’t get the money for an education. They can’t find good jobs. They end up stuck on food stamps and relegated to a subordinated existence. “If current trends continue,” says the NAACP, “one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.” One in three. That’s messed up. I’ve talked to friends about this. They’re aware of the continuing injustice but feel they can’t do anything about it. Every time we try to improve conditions, they say, something seems to get in the way.
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It is hard to believe that it has been a year since the Marathon bombings. I can still remember it like it happened yesterday. My heart beating faster than it ever had because I was stuck in a commotion caused by two explosives. Horror written all over the faces of those who were there, shaken from the tragedy that still does not seem to make sense. On that fateful Monday morning, my family had decided to go see the Marathon, which had attracted both elite and amateur runners from all over the world. My mom, brother, and I cheered as runners both young and old made their way to the finish line. I decided to take a picture of the international flags that represented the countries of the different runners. The Marathon was a Boston tradition but people from around the globe came to participate. They all had the same goal, to cross the finish line. As the late reggae singer Lucky Dube once said: “Different colors, one people.” Just when I was about to snap the picture, I heard a loud bang. The ground shook. For a second, I felt dizzy. I looked around. There was smoke everywhere. My first thought was: “Oh my God, that’s a bomb or something.” Then I felt a hand pulling me away. It was my mom. She was pushing my brother and me through the crowd, which seemed confused and shocked and frozen in place. Parents hugged their children to comfort them. As we moved through the throng, we heard a second bomb go off in our direction. That was when things got crazy. There were people screaming and running around, and there was blood everywhere, like something out of a horror movie. We were close to Lord & Taylor and were able to escape through the store’s back exit. When we got home, the first thing I did was turn on the television for updates. The eventual toll was four dead -- including a police officer later fatally shot, allegedly by the suspected bombers -- and more than 260 injured. Through this heartbreaking period, the goodwill of Bostonians overcame the bad. Boston stood strong and showed that in a world full of wickedness and evil, good people still exist: the first responders who rushed to the scene; the people who donated blood and money to the relief efforts. Being so close to the finish line made me realize that I had taken things for granted. It taught me how precious life is and that I have to use the opportunity of being alive to make a positive impact on society.
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There’s a thin line separating tradition and misogyny. When thinking of high school basketball, do you see tall, uniformed guys running in packs and drenched in pride? Or do you see the girls’ basketball team practicing for the semifinals? At many schools, there seems to be a passive discrimination in terms of which games -- or gender -- to support. Though the games may be equally announced to the student body over the intercom, girl athletes say they can hear a pin drop on the court when it comes to game day. The silence is not surprising. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation website, girls still play under poorer conditions when compared to their male counterparts and have 1.3 million fewer sports opportunities at the high school level. It doesn’t stop there. Girls receive more than $190 million fewer scholarship dollars annually than guys when they play college sports, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. So the question is: Are you part of the lack of having the female athlete’s back?
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Growing up, I was one of those girls who was always smiling, a joy to be around. But behind my beautiful smile was my shyness. As the years went on, I noticed that my shyness grew. In school, I would always sit in the back of the class. I was safe there. If I sat in the front, I would be in the spotlight. I never wanted to raise my hand. I was fearful that I would be judged if I did not know the answer. “You are nice and quiet,” my classmates said. I would just smile. In sixth grade, some of my teachers pushed me to come out of my shell. One day in social studies our teacher told us that we had to research a state we had learned about. I was excited about the project until she said we would have to present to the class and that it counted for 20 percent of my grade. I had no choice. On the day of the presentation, I was nervous. So many things were going through my head. I thought I was going to mess up and get laughed at. “How am I going to start? What if the class asks questions?” I wondered. But I did it. I aced my presentation and I felt good about myself. I realized that as long as I know what I’m capable of doing that I can be successful. Now, I am feeling stronger than ever. The advice I have for other shy students is to be open to different opportunities. You will build confidence in yourself and feel like you have achieved something new. My self-confidence was hidden behind a wall, and now it has broken through.
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