This year, as part of The Next Louisville, WFPL is highlighting the stories of youth in our community. Some of that is through long- and short-form stories about kids, teenagers and young adults and their interests, achievements and challenges. You’ll also hear more first-person stories about and by young people in Louisville.
As part of this project, we’ve planned a different kind of platform to let youth talk about issues that matter to them.
Six youth talk shows are planned this year, all focusing on different topics, in partnership with WE Day Kentucky. In this edition, four young people met in our studio to talk about education — both personal stories about their experiences and suggestions for ways to change the system.
The discussion was moderated by Zina Alyasseri, a junior at Southern High School. Joining her in the studio were Tyce Hall, also a junior at Southern, Zainab Alyasseri, a sophomore at the University of Louisville and Sean Waddell, a recent graduate of DuPont Manual High School who’s now a freshman at Howard University.
Tell us about a teacher or coach who has helped you get through school. How did they help?
Zainab: “Well, my Spanish teacher was Miss Maria Suarez. I met her my sophomore year of high school, when towards the end, I was trying to start a Muslim Student Association and I didn’t know what adult or what teacher to go to, to help me figure out where to start and who would supervise us. So, they directed me towards her because she was very active in the local community. She’s very active, politically, very politically aware…And then at the middle end of my senior year, it became a personal relationship, because like I said earlier, she wasn’t just a teacher, she was someone who, out of anyone in the school I could go to if I had a problem, and she would help me figure it out. She was there for me to listen to all the hardships that had to go through with my own identity, and her being from Cuba and going through similar problems to my parents — being a refugee and all — she understood how difficult it was to be in a school where nobody else really understood.”
Tyce: “I do want to say Ms. Lindsey Peden. She was my English teacher this year. And I just at the beginning of the year, I started off rough and like, I didn’t start off very well with behavior, my grades weren’t good. And like Miss Peden was always like a teacher like I could talk to and I went to her, I talked about it. And like through the year, we got closer and like we developed a like a really steady relationship. She just started helping me like get my work done. She was always somebody I could talk to like about family issues, school and like, I just know, I could always go to her.
“But then I also, have a good mentor, like a coach, Justin Hatchett, Coach Hatchett. He’s just like, always been like a father figure to me, because I don’t have a father in my life. But Coach Hatchett, he’s always been there for me, on and off the field. And whenever I need advice, I’ll go to that man, and he’ll help me out. He just keeps me going. I think he’s like made me the man I am today. So like, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
Sean: “For me, I’d say one of the greatest influences was a man by the name of Dr. James Calleroz White. He was the former head of school, at Louisville Collegiate School. And I went there and to Manual. But Dr. White was the first African American male Head of School at that institution. And he’s from Kentucky, he comes from a family that’s like a lower middle class. It’s a poor background. And what I always appreciated about him was like, he was a genuine person. He could have easily cared about just the intricacies of his job, just getting papers filed, just giving speeches that head of schools give. But he saw me as a young, African American student in an environment that wasn’t like the environment I’m from. And he made an effort to reach out to me, ask, you know, ‘How’s the experience going for you? How can I assist?’ He will have no problem giving me talks about life, helped me to see the world from a bigger scope, it helped me to navigate the world. And I don’t think I would be the person that I am today without him.”
Zina: “Yeah, in many ways, educators have a huge impact on our life, and the many ways that we experience school come from the educators that we’re surrounded by. And so for me, I think it was also Lindsay Peden. She was our sophomore English teacher. And you could talk to her about anything, and she’ll ask you questions. For example, I’m a Muslim, Iraqi American. And so whenever she didn’t know something about who I was, she would ask me. She would say like, ‘I’m sorry if the sounds ignorant, but is it okay if I ask you,’ and she’d make sure that she understood me.”
What struggles have you endured with your education, or what has kept you from wanting to keep going to school?
Sean: “I feel like my issue has been with some of the content that were taught in school. Like, I’m a person that reads, and I’m a person that studies the world from my own independent perspective. And when I go look at what’s being taught to me in class, and I compare that to what I know, from what I’ve read, and what I know from just living in the world, it’s very easy to see that a lot of things, especially in history, are slanted in a way that absolves any crime or any guilt for this society in this nation. So, African American History being cut down to Rosa Parks, and ‘I have a dream,’ and a paragraph about slavery.
“Of course, those kind of things have always bothered me, but they never made me want to pursue education less; they just always reminded me that to be educated is not to be necessarily lettered. You can have degrees or you can have a diploma, you can have medals around your neck, Honor Society, this and that, because you got A’s and a 4.2 GPA. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re an educated person.”
Zainab: “I personally would say, my own struggles were within myself. Not necessarily outside factors, but just questioning myself, questioning my identity, who I was, why I was there and using that to motivate me to be better, to do better. To make my parents proud. And I feel like my identity was always you know, too American to be Iraqi, too Iraqi to be American. And then I go to school, and I try to fit in with everybody. And then I didn’t. And I was like okay, well, is it okay that I don’t fit in? Should I force myself to fit in? Asking and fighting myself with these questions was very difficult. But I realized that’s what allowed me to push through. That’s what allowed me to push through the struggle.”
How do you believe education, or lack thereof, has impacted your community?
Sean: “The notion that racism stems from ignorance, I think sometimes us saying that gives too much validation to people who should be more responsible. And as people who experience racism, I think we sometimes have the tendency to give too much empathy to those who don’t deserve it. And I think that when you uphold a racist system, and you carry out racist tendencies, a lot of times, it comes from knowledge of your power in your position, and not wanting to lose it, and not necessarily ignorance.
“I think sometimes we’re ignorant of the fact that the system that we’re fighting against, is a much bigger system. But in my reality, education and my community, as an African American, it’s a huge factor. At one point in history, not too long ago, actually, we weren’t allowed to read, we weren’t allowed to write. You add up slavery, you add up the Jim Crow period, you add up mass incarceration up to now, black people in America have only technically been free, liberated for about 60 years.
“So when I talk to a lot of my white friends, whose grandparents and great grandparents went to college, and went to this university and this and that, a lot of my friends and family are just now going to college. Their grandparents didn’t have that opportunity, they were cleaning the floors of wealthy people. A lot of our parents were the first to go to college and get a higher education. And I think that the role of education in the society is to give people the ability to see the world for themselves, and to be mobilized in that world. To have the freedom to move and to choose and to think for themselves. And when you’re robbed of that, you’re a dependent person, you’re bound to be an oppressed person, a subjugated person. So I think the lack of education produces more oppression, more poverty in a cyclical nature that’s hard to break out of.”
On disparities in the way some student athletes are treated:
Tyce: “It doesn’t make sense to me how an athlete that’s just 6’5”, 250 pounds can get a full ride scholarship. But a kid with a 4.4 GPA still has to pay $4,000 a semester. I just don’t think that’s fair, how athletes — and I am an athlete, but coming from an athlete’s perspective — we get babied through high school. Like a lot of athletes, we get our diploma, we go off to college and what do we do from there? We get a degree and we don’t make it big. And we have a degree in communications, but you can’t really use that in many things. And athletes they’re just babied through high school. And I just don’t think that’s like really fair, like coming from an athlete’s perspective, like I’ve been treated differently from a regular student.”
On integration in today’s schools:
Sean: “I’ve done a lot of reflecting recently on the Civil Rights movement, and its successes and its failures. And when I think about Brown v. Board, I think about the premise of that case. And it was that African American children who are forced to go to segregated schools, their self-esteem and their personal values were menaced by the fact that they’re segregated.
“I’m a person who’s grown up 50, 60 years from that, and I’ve grown up in the most integrated of schools. And I can say that, from my experience in the most integrated schools, that integration did not absolve what the original problem was in the beginning. And that children who have grown up in integrated environments, their self-esteem, and their dignity is just as much diminished in this different environment than it was before.
“So now that we’ve somewhat moved towards an integrated society, I think it’s becoming more prevalent, that the issue wasn’t that black and white weren’t in the same space. The issue was that whether you’re in a black or white space, the philosophy that overrides everything is a white philosophy, and a white doctrine. And that’s because we live in a society that is Eurocentric where everything that is white is put in the dominant space.”
Zina: “Tyce and I, we go to the same school. And I’m pretty sure you’ve noticed this, too. When you look at the cafeteria, sometimes, you see, like, all the white kids are sitting on one side.
“So when you look at those groups, even within those groups, it’s like all the kids that care about education within that racial group are together. The kids that don’t care about education within that racial group are on one side. And racial segregation is still a thing in school. I mean, it’s a big deal to me that I see students that aren’t really talking to each other. Because if you don’t talk to the people that are different from you, you don’t really understand their background. And that keeps you from being able to thrive in your school. Because if you don’t understand the differences around you, you can’t really embrace them. When you don’t embrace them, you stay ignorant to these different experiences that people have.”
The Next Louisville project is a collaboration between WFPL News and the Community Foundation of Louisville. For more work from the project, click here.