Written by Nolan Benson, City Year Milwaukee AmeriCorps member.
“Why you leg broke?” That’s a common question I am asked at Carver Academy. Sometimes one will ask out of genuine concern for my well-being, but other times it is meant to be hurtful. I’ve been frequently experiencing mocking, laughing, and pointing as I walk through the halls or greet the scholars at arrival and dismissal. Now, most of the time I do not take the teasing to heart. I understand that I have a condition that causes me to walk in a way that not many people, yet alone K-8th graders, have seen before. My understanding does not justify any form of teasing, and the staff at Carver continues to aid me in explaining to the scholars why one should not mock or laugh at an individual with a disability. The numerous times teasing happens throughout each day, however, chips away at my comfort level within the school.
Rewind a little bit. Okay, maybe a lot a bit back to my first steps. As soon as I lifted my tiny foot off the carpet, my mom knew that my life just became more challenging. From birth, she has had a physical disability called Hereditary Spastic Paraparesis (HSP for short). This genetic disability causes a gene mutation that rotates the hip bone inward instead of out and significantly weakens the legs. Since only my mom has the disability, I had a fifty percent chance of having the disability. My brother does not have HSP and he cannot pass on the gene to his children. One who has HSP walks with an altered gate that looks like a twisting motion instead of a straight motion. The extreme torque on the knees, ankles, and feet wears away at the muscles and ligaments resulting in many injuries both small and large. The physical demands of service for me have been challenging, but it's nothing my hard-headed perseverance can't fix. Speaking of service, let's get back to life at Carver.
Now, it’s not like this is the first-time kids have said something or laughed at the way I walk. Some of my classmates would tease me as I progressed through grade school. By my junior year of high school, I developed Major Depressive Disorder, the discomfort that I associated with my school and the fragmentation of not being a ‘normal kid’ both being major triggers. We’re now in the middle of October, a month dedicated to bullying awareness. I cannot stress enough the emotional and physical damage that manifests in a child being bullied. If it weren’t for my close relationships with my brother and my few best friends, the damage could have been a lot worse. Depression took over my life for over four years. I lost all self-confidence, I struggled in my college classes and I eventually found myself in a psychiatric unit at Columbia St. Mary’s. After another year of therapy, I finally put the fragments of my identity back together to take a prideful look in the mirror for the first time in my life.
Five months removed from Marquette University’s graduation day, I stand in room 216 at Carver academy intervening the bullying I see in my classroom. It’s important to be consistent when interrupting hurtful remarks, but even with that consistency scholars still continue to bully. I have reported a couple cases to administration to ensure that students are getting the support they need. I’m working to aid my scholars academically, but I’m standing up for the "little" guy (the scholars who feel that they are unable to stand up for themselves), so to speak. I work with my students on developing social and emotional skills including empathy and decision making. Teasing, laughing, mocking, or causing harm to other scholars in my classroom will not be tolerated, and I hope to continue to mentor both the bullies and the bullied children in my classroom. I do not want the effects of repeated bullying to ripple throughout a scholar’s life like they did mine.