Each of the nonprofits featured on this list are geared towards integration by using creative ways to break barriers!
To add your nonprofit to the list, contact Chaz today!
So today is TDOR (Transgender Day of Remembrance). It is a solemn day in which we remember and recite the names of all the transgender people who have been violently killed in the last year. It is a global event. Last year, I had the opportunity to talk at Columbia's TDOR ceremony, and am missing my queer family a lot today. I have reposted the original text below, as an act of solidarity with the ghosts who will join us tonight. May They Rise In Power. [And just for clarification I identify as a non-binary trans man, in case anyone still didn't know: he/him or they/them]. I grew up with ghost stories. My dad would tell all kinds - scary ones that gave me nightmares, sad ones that made me cry, happy ones that brought me comfort. In lieu of time, I won’t cite an example, but I would like to talk about the structure of his storytelling. In true Appalachian fashion, my dad’s stories changed with each iteration, a small detail here, a larger plot point there. Sometimes the stories would blend into one another, forming a different one entirely. I loved that his stories could change every time, that they weren’t set in stone, that there was some fluidity to their construction. I often wondered why is it so much easier for us to accept that a ghost story can change over time but not our own story? Are we all not in some ways our own ghost story, our past selves haunting us in moments of distress? These stories that we invested so much time and energy into developing to please a particular audience, until ultimately we we realize that life is not our story… but someone else’s. And while certainly those of the queer community have struggled with these questions of authenticity and identity, there is something unique to the trans experience in which we absolve ourselves of a life that is not ours. In choosing to cast away our previous existence, we experience a death, a rebirth, a cycle. Our bodies transform, our souls fluctuate, our experience evolves. But with every loss there comes grief. I remember my mother once told me that she mourned the life that she imagined for me when I first told her I was queer. I now look at old photographs of a previous iteration of my Self and feel as if I am seeing a ghost. And this is a presence that I carry with me constantly - any time I catch a reflection of myself in the mirror, any time I struggle with a language that does not have the capacity to describe my existence, any time I have flash backs of feeling that I have failed at not being enough of a woman or being enough of a man. And while I have felt the presence of these ghosts since a young age, I only recently learned how to listen to them. Tonight we will be [...]
I still remember what it felt like, to be finally in a relationship with a woman who I didn’t meet online. My newness to the world of being queer (and the difficulty of being queer out loud) limited the actual people I met who were also queer and a lot of my interactions happened through tumblr. Well… to be honest technically it was also online. On OkCupid. So maybe I lied, she was the first woman I dated that I met online and also met in person (important distinction). We talked for awhile and we really connected, at least I thought so at the time. She was sweet and it felt like I finally found someone I could relate to. Our relationship started off fast, and because of unstable living on her end we ended up living together after 4 months. But it was also so rocky. So rocky. I realized that we actually didn’t have much in common. She didn’t like much of what I liked, and whenever I would bring up racism or oppression she would tell me I was ruining the mood. I financially supported her, and we argued all the time. I always remember thinking, “One day it’ll be better,” and I held back all of my wants and needs because it never seemed to fit. She was emotionally abusive. I just didn’t know that, I just thought about how hard it was for her and how all these fucked up experiences she had led her to treating me this way.. But that didn’t make it easier to live with her and I feel so small. I used to watch a lot of videos on Youtube of trans guys, it was in the early stages of my gender exploration. And I thought about taking testosterone, it was a far away thought and it didn't’ feel real, but I shared it out loud. All I remember is her being so angry, her ex took testosterone and became abusive, what if I do? I became small again, comforting her and realizing that what I needed for my life and my body probably wasn’t as important. That relationship consisted of brief stalking, so much gaslighting, control and manipulation. But at the time it was so hard to take any of that seriously. In some ways I feel happy having experienced that, not because I think I deserve it, but because it taught me to value people who didn’t treat me this way. -Micky Alexander Jordan
I came to realize the power of personal story in 2011. I performed in an autobiographical play about my childhood adversities. Through that experience I learned how everything, including how the abuse, the bullying for being feminine and gay, and the trauma from multiple moves, has shaped who I am today. While we are taught to only view such elements of our stories as “baggage”, they can actually become some of our greatest strengths. Unfortunately, as a minority group, we have fewer ‘safe spaces’ to talk about those struggles openly and learn the tools to use them to our advantage. Throughout this journey of coming to know myself through story telling I have learned a lot about the assumptions that are made when individuals who represent minority groups are categorized or judged by only one aspect of their identity. Whether at school, in the workplace, or in the grocery store, lumping individuals together by the abstract “diversity data” we all store in our mental compartments often leads to fear and ignorance. The journey of embracing our full selves, rather than the selves that society defines for us, is how we, the oppressed, underrepresented, and, in many cases, unnoticed, take back control of our destiny. We gain the power to heal ourselves, while educating those around us with authenticity. When it comes to being a member of the LGBTQ community, this work is even more necessary. We need to have control over how our stories are told, taught, and therefore valued. For this year’s Virginia Pride celebration, the following stories intend to focus on LGBTQ solidarity through showcasing our different stories. I asked a group of members in our community to share their own stories, because no one can tell them better. Sure enough, the diverse narratives showed how we often intersect as a group of underrepresented LGBTQ voices in Virginia This piece is a Story Bank. It features the narratives of diverse individuals from RVA and beyond who were willing to share some of their darkest and best moments. We have to share our narratives so they become the new norm and our multiple, intersected identities are celebrated. Happy Virginia Pride 2016. -Chaz
My first year teaching in Virginia took place in the post-hippie decade, the early 1970’s. Although I had been out to myself since the age of 12, I kept it to myself until one of my students complained about being treated unfairly. Her mom called the Principal and I got one of those “See me” notes. My principal told me that the girl had complained to her mother that I hadn’t treated her fairly. (Her mother had completed her homework project so I wouldn’t accept it) The girl also told her mother that she suspected I was gay which was tantamount to a serious infraction back then. So, my principal told me point blank, “I’m going to ask you point blank if you are gay. If you tell me you are gay, I will have to take this up with the Superintendent. If you tell me you’re not, everything will be fine.” I could tell she was trying to save me, so I said, “Mrs. Brown, at this point, I’m not dating a boy or a girl.” That was enough for her. The girl was transferred to another class, and I was relieved. My gay wit had saved me from losing my job. Decades later, one can still be fired for being under the LGBTQ umbrella in many states including Virginia. Still, none of us are really safe. -Gary Nelson, retired teacher, ROSMY facilitator
My friends and I were sitting in a booth at 3rd Street Diner eating our chicken tenders and onion rings when a woman walked over to us and asked if any of us had a cigarette. It just so happened that none of us smoked so we responded that no, we didn't have a cigarette but we hoped she'd have a great night. In the moments it took us to respond to her question, this woman had taken the time to look us over and make an assessment-we were all queer. Her assessment was true, but rather than 1) keeping it to herself 2) minding her own business 3) leaving us alone and going about her life, this woman decided to comment on her observation. "Are you all-" she assumed we knew exactly what she meant and waited for us to answer her question. We were silent. “I mean, I love it!” She said. We still didn’t respond. Hungry for validation, she asked again, “I mean, you are all . . . well I’m not gonna say it but-” again she left the question incomplete as if saying the word would be confessing sin. Eventually, given that we weren’t justifying her question with an answer, the woman chuckled awkwardly and walked away. We were left at the table feeling that, as in many other instances in our lives, we were perceived to exist for the amusement of others. As a queer black woman, I feel this every day. White people are amused by my hair or my intellect. Straight men are entertained or aroused by my relationships with other women. People with more privilege tell me how brave or cute or smart I am as if they set the standard-as if I need their approval. But I don’t need their approval or their comments. My identity is not risqué or exotic or sinful. It just is. Completely separate from what you think about me. I just am. -Cassandra
My mother believes that, at least on a subconscious level, I left my home in Massachusetts and came to Richmond to explore myself. I think she’s right. I mean, my surface level reasoning for the big move was a vague combination – I could not return to the slow, college-centric town I had been living in; I needed new opportunities and challenges. But as I began to navigate this new city, I found that was also navigating my sense of self. For me, finding a home in Richmond was synonymous with finding a home in my queer identity. Coming out as nonbinary was both a relief and a terror. I finally felt like I had the language to explain my grey area (or “the Grey,” as I affectionately called it.) But with it came a never-ending obstacle course, answering questions, explaining myself, introducing and reintroducing folks to this new part of me. For every piece of support, for every moment of validation, for every instance of uplifting euphoria, there was doubt, there were questions just shy of hostility, there was disconnect between the way I saw me and the way I was perceived, a powerful, at times paralyzing, social and emotional dysphoria. As cliché as it sounds, I found refuge just as it felt like the storm would hit. Richmond Genderqueer and Transgender Support Group (or RGT for short) became not just a safe place for discussion and self-expression, but also a place where I did not need to explain myself or my identity. Change was ok, it was celebrated, and there was no pressure to remain fixed or static. My pronouns were used without question, and at last I felt as though I could have conversations about my identity that extended beyond the basics. Through RGT, and the members who became dear friends, I was allowed to explore the multiplicity of my queerness. I am neither man nor woman, neither purely masculine nor feminine. I am a blend of both and something entirely separate. I am a soft-hearted boy, sensitive and emotional, in pastels and floral; I am a ferocious femme, hell-bent on razing any space that tries to bend me against my will. I am still figuring it out and I work to make peace with the Grey. And above all, I am ecstatic to finally be making a home within this city and within myself. -Blaise
People often look at me as if I designed my identity myself. As if my spirit went to a menu for bodies and chose: black, female, romantically and sexually interested in men and women. Growing up, my mom would always tell me, “You don’t love yourself enough. You can’t expect anyone to love you, if you don’t love yourself first.” But we have to be taught how to love both each other and ourselves. When I was younger my identity crisis was centered around my ethnicity and the desire to be validated by boys. My father was not there to help shape me into a confident young woman nor validate me as a person. My mother helped shape my identity by telling me not to touch myself, to stay a virgin, and wait for the right man. I was not allowed to explore my own god given body, but the right man could. In December of 2015, I decided to start shaping my own identity. I shaved off my thick curly hair that I had been trying to grow out for years. My mom was so angry because she worked so hard for my hair. She thought having a short haircut made me look like a lesbian. When people of color are stereotyped and shot down for a pigmentation they cannot control, how can anyone stereotype others based on who they love? How can anyone say that having queer friends, makes me become queer? It is not a choice whether I am black, queer, or a woman. I didn’t decide to carry the blood of my mother, but even still my body is my own. My first year in college, I was openly bisexual, with a preference for women. Throughout my first year, my mom asked me multiple times if I was a lesbian. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t fear having my sexuality questioned or told it was a phase or a college experiment. I wouldn’t have to imagine my family thinking I was disgusting or a sinner if they knew about my sexuality. Fortunately, this past year, I enjoyed getting to know myself and other people who wanted to break free from the stereotypes, expectations, and prejudice that overshadowed their identity. If I died today, would I be happy with how I spent my time on earth? No, I wouldn’t, unless I freely shared another part of who I am with the world and those who should love me most. Like my mom said, how can I expect others to love me, if I don’t love myself? My sexuality is not all that I am, but it is a part of me I will love and fight for. No matter who you are, what you believe, or how you define your gender or sexuality, I will love and treat you the same. And I will expect the same from you.
My most memorable and brightest moment as a Richmond resident, as a bisexual genderqueer boi navigating post-grad life has to me the day I met my partner. I was in the midst of many moving pieces and parts, including being depressed, being unemployed, and dealing with unstable living situations. I wanted to cheer myself up, go out and see friends and desperately needed an excuse to get out of my skin. So I got dressed up real fancy, put a part in my hair and everything, and went to Virginia Pride with a close friend hoping for a fun time. Who knew I got much, much more than I bargained for that day? Aside from the obvious distractions and gorgeous display of diversity that keeps me coming back, I was introduced to a girl, a woman that would change my life. The universe conspired that day for a tiny spark to blossom into love. When I met Chantea I was in a really crappy place in my life and love was a shaky ground I had grown weary of walking on. We exchanged numbers that day, but it wasn't actually until some months later that we reconnected. I needed some time to uncoil from a string of life’s abuses to see what could happen when I let real love, real black, queer, sensual, healing love, transform my life. Flash forward to a few years later and we are currently hunting around Richmond to find a place to start calling home. That's a milestone, both in a literal sense and in an emotional one, that I never imagined I would have for myself as a young queer kid in Virginia Beach. Moving to Richmond was the best decision I ever made because it gave me hope for a future I never thought I could believe in so passionately. I owe that to the city but I also owe it to her." - Fatima Sissoko VCU graduate, Richmond resident, proud black writer and lover of many things
My identity at one point was split between two opposing sides with a chasm in between. One side pulled me toward a religious community while the other pulled me toward personal authenticity as a gay man, but one without the other was a fraction of myself. I cannot separate myself from a religious community identity any more then I could abandon my identity as a gay man. Others, particularly in the LGBT community, have equated these opposing identities of mine as something equivalent to Stockholm Syndrome or some other deficiency, but for me each are as real and important to me as the other. In my effort to bridge this divide, I have found peace, happiness, and joy in the celebration and acknowledgement of both. The rope that binds this bridge together has been the acceptance that I have experienced in my adopted religious community. My religious identity is more than just membership in organized religion. It is an identity forged by my ancestors and instilled in me by my parents. A type of religious practice connected to my past, grounded in my present, and looking toward the future. It is a connection that is beyond myself and manifested through membership and participation in an organization linked to the Latter-Day Saint movement. To my joy, the Community of Christ acted as a bridge between my personal identity and religious identity. As a church, they have made intentional steps over the past 50 years to affirm their belief in the worth of all persons with LGBT acceptance being a recent manifestation of this deeply held belief. Among the people as is the case among many progressive Christians, I have found a vibrancy and love that can rarely be found in this world. I have found forceful advocates for peace and justice, and individuals who would defend me at a moment’s notice. Truly disciples of a compassionate Christ. It is within this space that I have been able to grow both as a religious man and a gay man. An identity that was once divided has been bridged and is being pulled back together. The pain of fear, rejection, and confusion has been replaced by a beautiful serenity. -Rand
As an LGBTQAI ally, I have grown to realize just how pointless it is to hate people based on the way they choose to live their life. I have multiple friends who consider themselves members of the LGBTQAI community and I can't remember a time that we've ever run into conflict with each other. It has always been positive vibes between one another and if their our negative vibes in our personal lives, we are there to help each other through those times. Demanding someone to live the way you want them to live is something I will never understand. It's important to get to know someone before making judgments on their harmless actions. I have benefited from being an ally in many ways. Friends of mine have lead me to opportunities that I would have never known about without them bringing it to my attention. I have also been able to discuss relationship situations with them; being able to hear both sides and getting a better understanding of what I may have been doing wrong or how to approach situations going forward. Overall, the support and open communication is what I have found to be the most essential. Communication is what makes things work, regardless of the differences between two individuals. -Travis Ellison
Moments that changed your life… A moment that changed my life recently was shaving all my hair off. As a young black woman, I found important part of myself in my natural hair. I learned to be okay with me. However, after coming to VCU Arts I realized I was not owning my beauty and I was not truly accepting my blackness. I shaved my hair off for my studio final. I spent years growing and learning to deal with, and eventually love, my hair. It became more of a symbol to hide behind than a symbol to celebrate. By shaving all my hair off, I was forced to focus on me, my skin, and my flaws. I feel more beautiful than ever and I am learning how to be confident and to own who I am. My advice for anyone unsure of who they are is to take action to becoming who you want to be. In college, you are faced with the challenge of choosing who you want to be and where you want to go. It is so hard to stand your ground and own who you are when you are different from the norm around you. Me realizing I have insecurity issues and taking action changed my life. I no longer want to waste time pretending. -Joy M.
Moments that changed your life… One moment that changed my life was breaking up with my ex boyfriend of almost a year. When I realized that I wasn’t going to be with him for the rest of my life, I was in complete denial at first. I thought that if I forced it I could make it work. But I couldn’t. As much as he wished I would have I couldn’t stand in the way of who he would be with forever and who I would be. So I broke his heart. Completely shattered it and now, he hates me. It was, and for right now, is the worst moment of my life. I broke down and cried for days and he completely shut down as a person. But, looking back, I realize it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and if I ever had to I’d do it all over again because I opened myself up to this possibility of other people and now I may be with this person I’ll spend the rest of my life with and he might be too. If anything I’ve learned not to force situations and feelings on a person you know you won’t be with. Open yourself to new possibilities. Even though it doesn’t seem like it and it will hurt really bad right now and for a while afterwards, it’s better knowing in the long rune to do whats right in the long run. For you and the other person.
Moments that changed your life… As a writer with a weekly column in UR’s newspaper, The Collegian, I knew I was in a position where I’d be wide open to criticism. However, I didn’t expect to get threatening letters, have my dorm door vandalized, have my name thrown around with slander and more. Well, all that happened. And when it happened, I broke down. I quit the newspaper and for a second, I gave upon my long love for writing. But right before I totally lost my spirit, God and the words of some students and professors that believed in me caught me before my fall. People told me that my perspective was new and needed, that it was refreshing, and that I should never stop writing. From there, I ended up starting my own successful blog, writing two children’s books and more. This experience changed me because it taught me to never lose my spirit! -K. L.
I started volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House as a sophomore because I wanted to do a project that I didn’t tell anyone about and was uniquely mine. I didn’t want to be volunteering to show people that “I’m a good person because I volunteer.” This was going to be my little secret. I went every Tuesday to the house for 3 hours, but I never really interacted with the families, I only did small tasks such as cleaning or baking. The next year, I went again, but was the only veteran in the program, so they began to show me how to do more of the challenging tasks such as the run the House (check people in, change sheets, clean the rooms, etc.) One night, they called me in, but they did not know I was 17, so they didn’t know I wasn’t of age to run the entire house by myself for the night. I was terrified. I began panicking and informed them of my age so they called in another volunteer to help me out. That night with my newly free time, I met Ryan. This little, 5-year old, red headed boy was hiding in the corner and the daughter of the volunteer that came in to cover for me was trying to coax him out to play. I saw this and began to simply hide in different locations around the room and peak out at him. He progressively crept further and further out of the corner until he was smiling and laughing and chasing me around the house. We hung out all night and he introduced me to some of his friends there. All of us played hide and seek and the hours just flew by. I promised him I would be back the next Tuesday and secretly hoped he would be there too. The Ronald McDonald House is a place where families can stay if they have a child in the hospital. H [House] is for families that live too far away to commute to the hospital. You always have to have a subtle happiness when you see that a family checked out of the house because it means their child went home. So, all of the kids I was playing with had siblings in Albany Med. [Center]. The next Tuesday, I couldn’t go to the house and I felt awful because I couldn’t tell Ryan that I wouldn’t be there. I felt terrible because I broke a promise. I emailed the volunteer coordinator and begged her to let me come on Thursday, desperately hoping Ryan would be there. I spent the first hour at the house doing work around the house with a sunken heart because he was nowhere in sight. Finally, I turned a corner, saw a tuft of red hair and stopped in my tracks. The second he saw me, his face completely lit up and he took a few steps back in total disbelief. He didn’t have words for a few [...]
Overcome: Describe an adversity that you have overcome. My whole life is a series of obstacles that I continue to overcome. I was born with my umbilical cord around my neck. That was the first obstacle. The other obstacles weren’t as serious. I moved a lot of places, so adapting and adjusting to new environments was something I struggled with, but overcame. I think everyone deals with bullying; whether they are bullied or bullying others, and I think its obvious that I went through that too. I overcame getting a job, paying for my own things, getting my permit, dealing with death, fear and psychological games that manipulative people play, negative self talk, depression, anxiety, severe stupidity, fighting, and peer pressure, but I’ve overcome that and more. My favorite part is that it all gives me a lift.
Overcome: Describe an adversity that you have overcome. I don’t like to talk about this very much, but - I found myself in a dark, terrifying pit of depression when I was 30 years old. I had three small children and found myself unable to sleep, inexplicably scared all the time, too nervous to sleep and frighteningly numb in every way except for my feelings of fear. All I knew was that this wasn’t “me.” I’d never felt like that before. I was afraid I couldn’t take care of my kids, I was afraid I would feel that bad for the rest of my life. My husband told me not to tell anyone. But I started to think “these poor kids, they deserve a good mom, and I can’t be that, so it would be better if I was dead.” At that point, a new voice came into my head that said, “wait - kids never get over their mother dying! Get yourself together!” So I told a friend who helped me find a counselor. Soon I was on medication and felt back to normal! It felt like a miracle! Life was not perfect after that. My husband declared he didn’t love me, and it took a long time for us to work through to a better place. But gradually, things got better. I learned to accept that I had to take medication. I was grateful to be ALIVE and happy and a really loving mother. I hate to think what might have happened if I hadn’t taken the risk and TOLD someone!
Community: How does “your story” make your community more inclusive? As the mother of a gay high schooler, I am committed to finding a safe place for him, and facilitating experiences as much as possible that help him learn where he can blossom and how to demand respect everywhere. I am so encouraged by this wonderful community as he has dealt with very little disrespect, and few challenges pertaining to coming out in middles school and making his way through high school. Richmond has great resources and is a loving and wonderful place for him and we are grateful. Now we carry that forward for others, acceptance and respect - we demand it and give it back. -M. T., Richmond VA
Overcome: Describe an adversity that you have overcome. My fourth grade teacher’s favorite phrase was: life is hard and then you die. While in fourth grade, I was straight up terrified of her. But now, I definitely value the realness she exposed us to. After 4th grade, I got a taste of how hard life could be, many of my friends were diagnosed with depression, eating disorders, and other mental health issues. I wanted to be there for them all. Then, when I was 16, my mother and I got into a car accident on my way to school. The crash was brutal and I lost my mother. The trauma of the accident consumed my life. I tried to be strong for my family, but I learned that you gotta stop trying to be strong for others. If you need help, ask for it. You deserve it. My high school art teacher really helped me deal with my loss and helped me find a space of healing in art. Now at art school, it can be kinda lonely, as the only hijab wearing Pakistani Muslim girl, but worth it! It definitely sucks not having my mother, but I am growing in ways I never would have thought I could. Whenever things get hard, I remember, “Life is hard and then you die,” which sounds pessimistic but it reminds me that nothing lasts forever. Which is sad cause it means laughter and fun end, but it also means crippling pain and sadness ends. Find comfort in the temporariness of it all. Live in the temporariness with all your heart.
Community: How does “your story” make your community more inclusive? One of the reasons I chose Richmond and VCU is because I felt it was a place where I could truly be myself and find a loving and accepting community. I have not been wrong about that. Over the past few years I have found my new chosen family and begun many new relationships of different kinds. In Richmond I feel free to explore the fluidity of all aspects of life. I can bee out with all my identities (trans, pansexual, panromantic, agender, mixed-raced, mentally-ill, etc) and not feel that I am invalid, or in danger (although I acknowledge that this has a lot to do with the various privileges I also hold). Since being here I have learned a lot about people and community and the ways of society and the world, good and bad. I have become involved with multiple organizations that work to protect, celebrate, and uplift marginalized and oppressed peoples while disrupting and dismantling the systems that marginalize and oppress. Ever since I have started I knew that I could never stop. Community is extremely important to me, and I want to see every member of marginalized and oppressed communities live and thrive, free from fear. I would encourage anyone reading this to find out what you can do in your area! Literally right now! The world needs you - the world needs all of us. There is no better time to start doing something for your community than RIGHT NOW! -Love and Light
Often times I would feel distressed trying to understand why I was depressed. Laying awake at ungodly hours of the night, I would burst into tears trying to make sense of all of my conflicting emotions. Even when all would be going well with my life, I worried. I never truly felt content in anything that I did no matter how successful I was. I would be praised by others, but all I could see were my own faults. Constantly comparing myself to others all the while setting unrealistic expectations for myself, I felt like I was drowning in a sea of utter sorrow. After much contemplation, I decided after graduating high school that I would end my life. Fortunately, it didn't go as planned. I was rushed to the hospital and then sent to a psychiatric ward where I was able to meet with a lot of individuals my age who had experienced a lot of the same things that I had gone through. Everyone that I met there was easy to relate to; we were all united in pain. This became a great comfort to me as I realized there that everyone has a story, each unique and thought-provoking. It was there at the hospital that I began to discover a bit more about myself as I established friendships with individuals that helped me to understand what depression was. That was something that never had even occurred to me before entering the hospital--that I was experiencing chronic-depression. I'm here to state that you don't need a reason to be depressed. Often times, I would feel guilty expressing my sadness believing that I had no reason to be but, you know what, you should never have to apologize for how you feel. I believe strongly that knowing true sadness helps a person appreciate joy much more. So, even though tomorrow might not be better, or even the day after tomorrow, there will come a day when you will discover your silver lining, and when that day comes, it'll be satisfying to know that you've discovered it after all of your hardships. I'm still waiting for mine, but, I know that eventually it will come.
Moments that changed your life… Katy Perry saved my life. True story. In the eighth grade, I was experiencing my first bout of depression, and it was brutal. I have been bullied since I was in the third grade, and it had escalated that year. Some of the people I considered to be my best friends were the ones who made me feel the worst about myself. I made the mistake of believing in their torments. I felt stupid, like I was a loser, worthless, and alone. I hated myself. I need to escape, so I applied for a local Governor’s School, hoping to get away from all the negativity. It felt like such a surefire thing, everyone believed I would get in. I still remember the crushing devastation of reading the letter telling me I was wait-listed. To me, that was it. That caused me to hit rock bottom. I wanted to die. The next day as I was debating whether or not to end my life, “Firework” came on the radio. The lyrics left me sobbing, from the first line to the ending line. That was my turning point. In that song, Katy Perry reminded me that I do matter and that my time will come. Whenever I need a pick me up or a reminder that my life has meaning, I remember Firework. Katy Perry saved my life. -MBC
'I AM MY LIFE' Prompt: The Moment When We Have to Realize That It Is OKAY to Be Different In the world we live in today, the media frowns upon people who are different. Magazines instruct us on how we should dress ourselves and quick ways to lose weight, television commercials tell us what we should want or need, models show us how we should look, even apps dictate how we should spend our time, but you know the one thing the media doesn't tell us to do? To love ourselves and embrace our individuality. And because the media neglects to inform us to accept ourselves and accept others who embrace who we are, a large majority of people who weren't taught to accept the individuality of others as well as themselves judge others because a certain individual doesn't like the music, fashion sense, or movies that the media tells us to like. I hope you that you are able accept everything about you that makes you different. Accept that you have different tastes in music and would rather listen to foreign music than mainstream pop and hip hop. Accept that you don't like to keep up with the latest trends and that you would rather wear whatever clothes that made you feel comfortable. Accept that no matter what size you are--despite what the media wants you to be--that you are beautiful no matter what anyone tells you. Above all, your beauty--guy or girl--should be appreciated by yourself. Accept that your beliefs and preferences will not be the same as everyone else. You are different and that is what makes you so special, there is one and only one of you in this world. Please realize that it is okay to be different. Signed, Richard Bland Student
'I AM MY LIFE' Prompt: A moment that changed your life for the better When I graduated from college in long-ago 1974, things seemed not unlike they seem today: the economy was terrible, job prospects were few, the country was demoralized by a failing war, and people had lost faith in our leaders. My wife Abby and I got married in the midst of all of that at 21 years old. She was getting her master’s degree at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City and so I went there for a year to see if I could find something worthwhile to do while applying to graduate school. My degree was in American Studies, so it was not obvious what I might do. I was open to anything that made money, so I worked for a little while in a factory, stapling boxes for heaters, and then for a little while in an office where we did the paperwork for repossessing washers and dryers and such. It was terrible and so I kept going to the employment office. A dream job appeared: directing the Johnson City Youth Center. There, my job was to recruit “problem youth” and to get them into job training. The latter didn’t materialize, thanks to other people letting us down, so I had a cinder-block shell of a building to do something with. We had a stereo, a decent kitchen, two pool tables, a couple of ping pong tables, and a basketball goal, plus I got local bakeries to give me day-old products (sugar helped the doughnuts hold up the best). I recruited students from the university to volunteer. I don’t know that I did any particular good, but I did get a chance to meet all kinds of kids I’d not met before--kids without many choices or opportunities. African American and white young people hung out together--something I’d not seen before. I met the first person who openly identified as homosexual (the word “gay” didn’t exist then, at least not in that world). They all had hard lives, but I could see that they had plenty of intelligence, energy, and humor. Things had been stacked against them for so long, though, that they couldn’t see how to break cycles of family unhappiness, low expectations by themselves and of others, and a general sense of defeat. They would turn to petty crime, casual sex, and drugs easily, risking too much for too little, feeling that they had little to lose. I despaired of being of real help to them, though I tried to be a friend and ally. My applications to graduate school came back with a scholarship. I felt even more distanced from the young people with whom I spent my days. They were happy for me, they said, but I was one more person abandoning them. My work as a historian, teacher, and president were all shaped by that year. I have tried to understand how systematic injustice is built into people’s lives, how [...]