Having been around for 30 years, Council for Unity is a non-profit organization that solves issues in schools and empowers youth with the skills necessary to, according to the organization’s mission statement, “promote safety, unity and achievement in schools and communities”.
During the time in high school, I didn’t hear much about Council for Unity classes that my school offers to help students who are from dysfunctional families or encounter problems inflicted upon them by the communities that they are a part of. Two days ago, due to the work I did over the summer, I was invited back to my high school as a guest and attended five CFU classes run by a teacher.
On the door of the classroom, there was a sign that said no negatives thoughts allowed after you walked in. The teacher told me that running those classes, he tried to create an atmosphere where a hundred and thirty five students could be themselves and express what they think without fear. There were bright students from AP classes, but there were also students who fell academically behind others.
The desks were organized in an U-shaped order to make it easier for the students to interact and engage in discussion. Keeping the friendly atmosphere, the teacher hardly gave any authoritative commands and as a result, some students would play with their phones and giggle among each other, instead of paying attention to the lessons, which were in the form of conversation between teacher and students. Some students, immersed in the materials handed out, seemed shy and didn’t raise their hands when there were questions. Reading out loud an article, one or two would struggle to pronounce a word. If you are an educator who happens to read until here, I think such a description wouldn’t be surprising. Yet, that was an incomplete portrayal of these students.
I was quite taken aback by listening to their thoughts and stories. Since there are five classes, I witnessed the nuances of feedbacks from not only mature seniors but also freshmen and sophomore who had only stepped into a new school environment recently. The topic they discussed was “Identity”; in particular, they talked about an article written by an anonymous gay Christian whose parents and Church condemned homosexuality. The comments were so thoughtful that I shared with the teacher at the end, “I don’t think that I can learn this much from an adult or a college student.”
Extremely eloquent, a girl with brown hair said that when she was a younger, she used to go to a Catholic school where she had conflicts with the nuns. She talked back to them, never listened and ended up being smacked with rulers. Another said that she would have to confess sins to the point of not having any sins to confess, and as a result, she made up sins so that the nuns would leave her alone. During the heated discussion about the article, J. expressed, “Homosexuality is not a disease. They should have the right to love each other.” Two to three girls raised their hands to talk about their experiences coming out to their families as lesbian and pansexual. One girl was deeply scarred by how her Mother didn’t talk to her because she couldn’t accept her sexual status. The other girl, with a sad tone in her voice, said that she wouldn’t be able to have kids the way her parents wanted her to.
A girl sitting by the window shared a heart-broken story that made my heart sink. In her former high school, there was a boy name M. His peers made fun of him for getting along easier with girls. Teachers disrespected him. Parents prayed for him when knowing that he was gay. M. committed suicide. And even after his death, his parents would make cold-hearted comments such as, “He shouldn’t have been gay in the first place.” The teacher’s voice after hearing that story still echoed within my eardrums: “This is real guys. It sucks because you have the society condemning you for being who you are. And you didn’t have anyone to lean on to.
At the last class of the day, students were mostly sophomores and freshmen so the dynamic was a little different. We didn’t discuss about homosexuality, but about the challenges of being a student: being judged, disrespected and gossiped by other peers. One girl was forever framed with the label “slut” because in her freshman year, she enjoyed the attention from boys. Another 15-year-old talked about how she smoked and would never tell anyone to do the same thing as her. Because of smoking, she “did some crazy things” and her parents treated her too well considering all the things she did.
It was as if I had stepped into a different world when hearing all those discussions. Maybe, it was because the atmosphere and setting were different from my college’s. Or maybe, it was because these students shared their stories so honestly. I was glad because they had a place to express themselves and people who listen to them. When I was in high school, other students very often called kids who were in this class “stupid” because some of them pierced their noses, or wore saggy pants. But, behind those appearances, there were unspoken pains, scars, troubled memories and stories that had never been shared. Their stories are important to me, because those speak of a bigger problem laying in a society that cannot heal itself and thrive unless youth is paid more attention and accompanied with resources and love.
Through this blog post, I want to say thank to the teacher who runs Council for Unity in my old high school. Thank you for giving a care and dedicating your undying energy to helping these troubled students. I also want to send my deepest appreciation to the publication that runs the story of the gay Christian boy. Thank you, thank you so much.