This I Believe

Elizabeth - Louisville, Kentucky
Entered on February 7, 2008
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: fear
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“I believe that people must be forced into learning about their fears before they will truly be unafraid.”

I’ve thought about the many fears that I’ve had in the past, and the steps that it took in order for me to overcome them. I’ve come to the conclusion that most people are not going to willingly confront their fears face – to – face. For instance, you aren’t going to go up to a person that you don’t really trust and tell them that you don’t trust them, and then explain why, are you? Of course not. To get people to work through their fears about one another, they have to be forced to be together. Forced to talk to each other and sit near one another. They have to be forced to know each other.

Living in Louisville, Kentucky, I attended a Jefferson County Public School for middle school, where it was formerly required by law that the schools had to educate a certain amount of each racial population in order to stay open. In other words, the diversity that I experienced was forced. When I entered Noe Middle School, public school was a world that I knew nothing about. I had never met another person, besides my Spanish teacher, who wasn’t Caucasian. Imagine my uneasiness when I entered a school whose student body consisted of 453 white people, along with 589 students who were made up of other races. Approximately 512 of these students were African American, and the 77 others were made up of a world – wide variety of races and cultures. Well, naturally, I was scared to death. I didn’t know anything about these different people, except for what I’d seen on MTV and VH1. I didn’t know how to talk to these kids. I didn’t know that they were probably scared of me, too. I didn’t know that color didn’t matter to them. All I knew was that they were different and that I was scared.

On that first day of school, walking down the hallways to a bathroom break, I somehow mustered up enough courage to say hello to a group of black girls in my class. I remember how suddenly small and vulnerable I felt. They looked at me kind of weird, and then walked on, continuing their conversation. As the year went on, I started to talk to them more and more. It wasn’t only them, though. In my science class, I became good friends with a Yugoslavian girl who sat next to me, and in Social Studies there was one girl from Iran and one from Afghanistan that asked me for pencils all of the time. I soon became comfortable around all of my classmates, and even though the fear of being disliked or made fun of because of my skin color came back to me, I learned to be myself around teachers, friends, and even strangers. People began to like me for me, and I began to like them for the same reason.

That summer, my fears left me completely, and I journeyed through seventh and eighth grade at Noe without judging people, or allowing them to judge me, for that matter, based on my skin color. In fact, the black girls that I spoke to on my first day of sixth grade are now my best friends, and I have many more best friends that I’ve met along the way. I’ve learned to see people for who they show themselves as, not who everyone else sees them as.

I realized that I would have never had the life experiences that I had at Noe Middle, had I not been forced into the situation. I might have been sitting here, ready to go to high school, and not know anything about this nation, or who lives in it. I was pushed out of my comfort zone, and I loved where I fell. I learned about the people around me, and saw how silly it was that I was afraid of them. Noe’s lesson has made it impossible for me to hang around those who act, dress, talk, look, and think exactly alike. I believe that people must be forced into learning about their fears before they are truly unafraid. Before they are truly unafraid to work, learn, and live together, they have to learn that their fear is illogical and absurd.