Growing up, I was always told by books, television shows, and teachers about the American Dream. I was always reminded that I could be anything I wanted to be so long as I worked hard and stayed persistent. They told me that it did not matter where I came from. That I was not bathing in money. That my family is from across the ocean. They even had a song about it; I’m sure some if you know it: “I know I can...be what I wanna be...If I work hard at it...I’ll be what I wanna be,”
And it is true. We can be anything that we want to be. But before they allowed us to dream the American Dream, they should have told us that there were exceptions. They should have been honest and said, “You can be anything you want to be, BUT you must speak English. It does not matter where you come from, BUT it is always going to be harder for you and those like you because of your skin. This system is not designed for you. You are black. You are female. You are Muslim. You come from an immigrant family. The cards are stacked so high against you that you can’t even see the top, and you dare dream the American Dream? You dare demand an equal education? How dare you? This system was not designed to help you!”
My name is Sokhnadiarra Ndiaye, and I am a junior at Brooklyn College Academy, which means I graduate next year. But I am 17 years old, and according to the system, I am supposed to be a senior, so why am I a junior? Because I was left behind. I was left behind because I did not speak English.
You see, I am a U.S citizen, but I grew up in Senegal, West Africa. It was in Senegal that I learned my values and culture. When I came back to America at the age of 9, I was supposed to be in 3rd grade, but because I did not speak English, they placed me in 2nd grade, despite me being as educated as my peers, if not more. My grade level was determined by my ability to speak English as opposed to my level of intelligence. They judged me despite the fact that America doesn’t have an official language. Now, I have to sit back and watch the seniors, some of whom I tutored, head off into college, knowing I’m supposed to be walking across the stage with them. All because of a language barrier. A barrier that I quickly overcame.
However, I am not here on my behalf because I’ve learned to deal with it. I am here for the many other students who are still being left behind because of their language, because of their skin color.
Dear NYC public school system: give all students a chance. Do not judge them because there is always more than meets the eye. We have lost out on possible presidents, teachers, lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, all because they didn’t get a chance. Let us say no more. No more postponing futures. No more keeping them out of school. No more lies! We demand equity! They say education is the key to success, but what happens when some keys are shinier than others? What happens when one public school education puts another to shame? What do we do with the increasing number of students who are giving up on their dreams? Who are made to feel like they are not worth it? You want better, more educated citizens? Start giving the ones left behind the education we deserve. We all deserve an equitable education! What will it take to get it? We are the ones you left behind, but you will not silence us.