The Last Hope: J’s Story

The Last Hope: J’s Story

I’ve often struggled to quantify human suffering. Growing up, my family could quiet my complaints with a simple, “People are starving in Africa, you’ve got it pretty good.” And in hindsight, I did have it pretty easy. But I remember clearly how difficult high school was and how minor incidents impacted me more than they did before or since. I was a raw nerve in high school, and the painful moments served to toughen me up for future challenges. I’m grateful for my suffering, even though it may have been minor.

So why did J’s story tug at my heartstrings as it did? What part of her e-mail spoke to me enough to commit to telling her story?

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5 ways to reach out to high school students in need

5 ways to reach out to high school students in need

Famous motivational speaker and author Mawi Asgedom recently visited Senn High School, and his story closely paralleled the many challenges J has had in her life. Mawi spoke of his family’s struggles assimilating to the United States, including his mother’s struggle to acquire a driver’s license despite her inability to speak English. Despite his father’s near-blindness and the language barrier, Mawi’s family reinforced the power of education to the point that he was able to graduate with top honors from Harvard. Presently, he works with teachers in helping them recognize the “invisible children” that give up on themselves–they type of teenager I’m hoping J doesn’t become.

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The Whole Family Serves the Sentence

The Whole Family Serves the Sentence

When a parent, sibling or child goes to jail, the whole family serves the sentence with that person. 

–Andrea Strong, from “Prisoners’ Family Members Also ‘Serve Time’ When Relatives Go To Jail, Experts Say” Huffington Post 2/11/2013

The impact of having an incarcerated parent has been long explored in the United States as 2.7 million children face the struggle. But what about minors that have siblings in prison? What resources are provided them? In impoverished families, the sibling bond often surpasses the bond of the parent, yet resources are not made available for the brothers and sisters suffering a devastating loss. 

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Carrying the weight of a broken system

Carrying the weight of a broken system

How easy would it be for J to turn her struggles into excuses? To allow her behavior and her morals to slip? To slide from frustration into complacency? How simple it could be–to write off a broken system and turn her back on her goals.

Somehow, the spark remains in J’s eyes, the gleam. And after our first interview, it’s clear that it remains in her heart.

The group found out more pieces of the puzzle. More than anything, J’s problems stem from her older brother’s arrest a few years ago for attempted murder, the beginning of her family’s unravelling, an arrest that J firmly believes was unwarranted. She recalled going to court and realizing the evidence wasn’t present; the details didn’t add up. J doesn’t believe that her brother even left his apartment that night, let alone drove his van into an elderly gentleman.

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You’re a mean one, Mr. Trump

You’re a mean one, Mr. Trump

“I don’t think they have American citizenship and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers–you’re going to find out they do not have American citizenship.”

–Donald Trump on babies born in the United States to undocumented immigrant parents

Like everyone across the United States, I’ve been inundated with images of Donald Trump spouting hostile warnings to the American public–if you don’t elect me president and let me transform immigration policies, the Mexicans are going to take over this country. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve grown not only disgusted with his red hat and squinty eyes, but disturbed that the lowest common denominator in the United States is finding inspiration in his vitriolic ramblings.

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J’s story, on the precipice of hope

J’s story, on the precipice of hope

Conservative politicians like Donald Trump have recently thrown around the term “anchor babies” to describe children born in the United States to undocumented parents as though they’re more burden than human being. What struggles do the teenagers with birthright citizenship have? As a Chicago Public Schools teacher that serves many immigrant students, I want to explore the many struggles of immigrant teenagers as they seek a bright future for their families.

Since I made my first podcast this summer, I’ve wanted to tackle a heavy issue that faces the city. Teenagers’ stories often go untold and thus hold an impact on the public that might be unaware of the current struggles of youth. For this reason I created an assignment in my Journalism course where the students were told to e-mail me their “life stories.” I was amazed at the result; the students faced challenges that seemed insurmountable, and none more insurmountable than J’s.

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