Louisville Story Program asked a group of students at Iroquois High School to craft personal narratives about something important to them. The stories they came up with spanned the globe, and the range of human experience — some universal, and some difficult to even imagine. Fighting on a playground. Fleeing to a refugee camp. Singing in church. Losing a family member to gun violence. Lying to your mom about where you’re going after school. And all the while, learning.
Click on each student’s picture to hear their story.
“At home, I was African, and at school, I was American. At home, I would speak my language, but I would never dare to speak it out in public. I was embarrassed of my ethnicity. I wanted to be seen as American. I had African American friends, and even picked on Somali Bantu kids because I wanted to fit in. I hated this part of myself.”
“I grew up on 32nd & Greenwood, on a busy street across from Parkland Boys & Girls Center. Our block was one of the safer, secluded blocks, thank God. But we would still hear gunshots. Helicopters soared through the sky every night looking for a new criminal, and their lights shined through my window as I tried to sleep.”
“At 11 years old, I started to sing in my free time. It was my passion, and my grandma was my inspiration, and a role model. Each time I sang in church, I had this feeling that my voice would bless someone. This was one way I felt connected with God.”
“I was sleeping, and at first I thought our house was struck by lightning. I hadn’t heard the sound of gunshots for years. I told my mama, ‘Is this what we left Somalia for? I would rather die in my country than a foreign country.'”
“That was the first time I’d ever seen my loving grandma hate. I bit my tongue, terrified that she would question me. She was the only person I felt gave me a home, and peace. I knew she wasn’t a bad person. It was confusing and frustrating during the time I was trying to come out, because I wanted to make her happy, but I had to be happy, too.”
“One night, we heard gunshots. People screaming and crying. I was 4 years old, sleeping in my mother’s room, when she tapped me on the shoulder to wake me up. She was terrified. It was the first time I ever saw her cry. At 3am, my mom told us to go pack: ‘Take only the things you need, and stay quiet. Don’t turn on the light.'”
“The words she said kept repeating in my head over and over. I just could not believe how ignorant it was. I mean, where did she get the audacity to say, ‘Why should girls even go farther in their education? As long as they know how to read, that’s enough, isn’t it?’ Growing up, I heard a lot from my neighbors that women belong in the kitchen. I never knew exactly what that meant.”
“My mom encouraged me to never give up, and eventually I learned how to fit in. Even though we lived and faced challenges, we always find a way out. My mom always shows her happy side and she always hides her emotions. She always has confidence and hope. She is the strongest woman I know. She’s my hero.”
The Next Louisville project is a collaboration between WFPL News and the Community Foundation of Louisville. For more work from the project, click here.