Written by: Anonymous
Since the age of 10, it’s been my life goal to end the cycle of poverty.
I was a bright child, considering the lack of bedtime stories, stability or love in my home growing up. I lived in SOHO (south london over the tracks) before it was trendy and an up and coming spot for young Londoners. I attended a school with children like me. Children who didn’t eat breakfast. Children who had walked to school with shoes that didn’t fit. Children that shaved their hair or wore it in tight ponytails to avoid the lice. Children that were spinning in the cycle of poverty, just like me.
I wanted so badly to not be invisible. I wanted to shine in my own light. So, I built up the courage and I asked my Mom to let me audition to Lester B. Pearson School for the Arts. This was a big deal for my little family. And she said yes.
I remember that moment so vividly. The cost to audition was $25. That doesn’t seem like much, right? But $25 was a lot for my family. For the chance to audition, that would mean that we’d have to skip doing laundry that week, and we’d have to forgo the minute steaks that we looked forward to during movie night each Friday.
The pressure was on to get into to Pearson. I wore the stress at school. I told all of my teachers that I NEEDED to get in to Pearson. My guidance counselor gave an unmotivating pep talk that it would be unlikely that I would be chosen and to not get my hopes up.
But I went. I auditioned. I gave it my all.
Then the letter came. My prayers had been answered. My mom and I cried with joy. I looked sympathetically to my little sister who would have to stay behind.
Then it was time to go to Pearson. There were so many expectations from the families of accepted children. We needed to have appropriate dance clothes. We needed to purchase a recorder. There were uniform deposits and costs for transportation. The list went on.
From the start, I knew that I would not be able to bus to school with the rest of the kids. I would have to walk.
The bullying started instantly.
The other Pearson students made fun of the strong scent of vinegar my mom had sprayed on my hair each morning to deter lice. They laughed at the makeshift bell-bottoms my mom had made by inserting old fabric triangles into my second hand straight legged jeans. They taunted me from the busses as I walked home each day after school to my “shady neighbourhood.”
My only friend from school wasn’t allowed to come hang out at my house or have sleepovers. Her parents always had excuses when she wanted me to go there.
But it didn’t stop there. During summer break and on the weekends, the neighbourhood kids called me a brown-nosed Pearson kid and told me to go back to my rich school. It felt like I had no one.
I’d like to say it got better with time but it didn’t. School got harder. When I came home with homework there was no time to do it. I had to help my mom with the garden, watch and take care of my younger sister. I’d be pulled out of bed at 11:00pm to help do laundry at PJ’s Laundromat because it was a dollar cheaper after midnight. It wasn’t unusual for us to go a full day on very little sleep and even less to eat.
I get angry writing this. Where were the adults to swoop in and stop this from happening? My mom had come from an even worse home with far less and was doing the best she could with what she had and knew.
But where were the people who knew better?
Why did my fourth grade teacher not ask me why my homework couldn’t be completed instead of singling me out and making me stay in from recess?
Why did my dance teacher make me watch from the front if I didn’t have the appropriate clothing to participate in or if it wasn’t clean in time for class?
Why didn’t anyone notice that I came to school hungry every morning, and without a lunch?
How did anyone not know that a child sat hiding in the bathroom stall in the winter to avoid the cold recesses without hat or mitts?
There were so many ways to identify this struggling child.
But I was invisible.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As adults, there is so much action we can take on this issue, and we can start to shift the conversation. All you need to do is . . .
Talk to your children.
Have these important conversations to help them be aware of the different ways people live in our city.
Teach them to be compassionate and kind to all. Be active in their school environment and get to know these lost children.
All it took was one caring adult to change my life and pull me from the cycle of poverty. A parent of a friend I met at summer camp. A family who had time to teach table manners, had the patience to correct grammar, and had love to show to a child who was starving to be seen.
All it took was one caring adult. All it takes is you.
You can help change the conversation by sharing what you've learned with others.