Hebh Jamal

I was shut down and told that ‘I wanted to destroy the system’ and that ‘I did not represent my school properly.’
Hebh is a senior at Beacon High School. She'll be attending The New School in the fall.

Hebh is a senior at Beacon High School. She'll be attending The New School in the fall.

To whom it should concern:

New York City has the most segregated schools in the country. In a city where we pride ourselves on being “progressive” and “liberal,” we have a system that contributes to one of the worst injustices of our time: denying a sound education to the students who need it most.

Unfortunately, I was ignorant to this issue when applying to high school. As a first-generation American, I had little to no help looking through the 600-plus page high school directory. I was told that a “good school” had a high graduation rate, so that number was the only thing I looked at to determine which school I wanted to attend. As a student living in the Bronx, I ended up going to school on the Upper West Side.

Isolation: the feeling that absorbs you when you walk into the doors of a foreign place on the first day. The realities of segregation made me automatically different from the rest of my peers because a) I was Muslim and b) I was the only student from my middle school. My first memories of high school consisted of walking into the cafeteria to find a familiar face to no avail. I became angry, upset, and lonely. It was mind-boggling to me how if you asked who was from certain middle schools, half the class raised their hands. Everyone knew each other.

I didn’t realize why I felt the way I did until two years later when I visited an integrated classroom at another school. The feeling of inclusivity felt abnormal to me. Cliques were nonexistent and people from all backgrounds were interacting with each other. As a student activist, I came in to talk about Islamophobia, and I came out thinking about another injustice: our education system.

I fought long and hard to make the issue known at my school. I held meetings, taught lessons, spoke to experts, read books – lots and lots of books. I thought people would be receptive to this idea that educational equity is something that everyone deserves, and yet, to my dismay, that was not the case. I was intimidated by my school’s administration. I was shut down and told that “I wanted to destroy the system” and that “I did not represent my school properly.”

All I wanted was a conversation. All I got was political jargon because I go to an affluent school that unfortunately thinks accepting too many students from the South Bronx would threaten its “elite” status. All I wanted was for people to understand that we need to do more for our city and to uphold Brown v. Board of Education.

After joining the student-led organization IntegrateNYC4Me, I met extraordinary people who have made it their mission to right the wrongs of our education system and our country. The adversity I encountered once I started speaking out confirms that what I’m doing is important.

Education is not a virtue. It’s a right. Treat it as such. I ask all of you who are reading this letter to understand that demanding equity is not radical. I ask all of you to give voice to students who deserve to tell their stories. I ask all of you to realize that if we are still teaching students that Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 because it’ll be on some standardized test, then we are not teaching them.