AUTHOR: Bronx Leadership Academy II Journalists  |  AGE 14-18

During the winter and spring of 2016, students from Bronx Leadership Academy II took on the roles of journalists, editors, and photographers to publish two newsletters. They tackle issues including school violence, bullying against LGBTQ communities, the presidential election, and more.


Believe in the Gay Black Me! By Keith J.

Imagine you’re eating a meal with your happy, black family, having a laugh or two about what you did when you were a child. All of a sudden you blurt out, “I’m gay,” in front of everyone at the table. What do you think would happen next? Will they continue their conversations about the past, or will they stop and start a new conversation, one about what you’ve just said out your mouth? Some readers might answer, “They’d continue their conversations,” but in reality the family is going to express its “concerns” about your announcement that you are gay.

I’ve had people ask me, “Why did you turn gay?” Well our friendly neighborhood gay fairy came to my room one night and sprinkled rainbow glitter on my forehead and then POOF, thus came a Gay Keith!

Just kidding.

Even though that seems fun and interesting, that is not how being gay — or as contemporary people would say, LGBTQIAP+, which means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual, and plus — happens. (So many words, right?) Well there is more to it than just gay or straight. It’s more than just man or woman, and more than you! Being gay, coming out, and the realities of homophobia are on most people’s radars. But somehow the complexities of being gay and African American–or just plain black–are overlooked.

Being gay and being black have something in common: oppression. People will judge you about everything, but being both gay and black elicits high levels of discrimination. It’s like having two targets on your back!

I myself have been:
• Shamed by my own family members on Facebook for posting a cover photo that said, “I’m gay so what.”
• Called derogatory names by my own family members
• Called slurs by students from my school

I am not alone. A high percentage of LGBTQ+ students have been bullied based on other people’s perceptions of them.

The 2013 National School Climate Survey reported that “74.1% of LGBT students were verbally bullied (e.g.,called names, threatened) in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

What if we add some color to the question? According to the National Center for Statistics, “24.7% of African-American” had reported being bullied based on their race. But what if some of those African-American students were apart of the LGBTQ+ community? If those statistics are right, then it doubles the discomfort of the African American students who are already being judged for their race.

How would you feel if you were black and LGBTQ+? Do you think it would be a life you could cope with? Would you be able to fully accept who you are? To be completely honest, it is hard to tell who will live a great life being black and LGBTQ+ because everyone is different. Some might cope with it, might be accepted by their friends and families and live their lives the way they want to. Others might not cope with it so well. They might lose touch with their loved ones and feel bad about themselves. They might become depressed and end their lives because, according to them, a life of exclusion is not worth living.

As African-American LGBTQ+ youth we have to come to a point where we can say, “I should not care for what my family expects from me,” even if it’s being a “real” man or having children in the future. We should be allowed to “Pump It” and be as flamboyant as we want because people literally fought and died for us to have this much freedom, to have our own culture. People like the black gay men who started the voguing trend, Marsha P. Johnson and other black gay icons who showed us that as Black and LGBTQ+, we can do anything! All you need to do is believe it.

Metal Detectors Create Frustration for Outer Borough High School Students by Leslie T, Sharlene O, Nabila A, and Mathilde W

After a fight outside the Mott Haven Campus in early February, metal detectors were temporarily installed at the campus’ main and rear entrances. Authorities have not identified all those involved in the afternoon fight, but a student from our school was attacked and injured, and different sources say a taser or gun was used.

From the time the devices were installed until their removal in March, students, faculty, school staff , and visitors were all required to pass through the detectors before going on to BLAII, New Explorers, or Careers in Sports. Almost everyone expressed frustration at the inconvenience, invasiveness, and stigma attached to the metal detectors–and, by extension, the campus. Ultimately, this recent experience has convinced us at the BLAII Times that metal detectors do more harm than good to students, teachers, and deans.

In New York City, 91,114 students go through metal detectors every morning. Of those, 48 percent are black students and 38 percent are hispanic students. At the same time, only 14 percent of white students in New York City go through metal detectors. This is an example of racial profiling – where students of color are seen as criminals.

Compared to other boroughs, the Bronx has the highest percentage of students that go through metal detectors. Sixty-two percent of Bronx high school students go through metal detectors, while forty-two percent of Brooklyn high school students go through metal detectors. In Manhattan, 26 percent of high school students go through metal detectors. In Queens, just 20 percent of high school students go through metal detectors, and at the time of this publication there were no metal detectors in use at Staten Island high schools.

According to the Brookings Institute, a non-profit public organization, low income areas oft en have higher crime rates than middle income areas. The Bronx has the highest concentration of low-income residents in New York. School officials believe that the presence of the metal detectors has decreased the number of students getting hurt at school.

We asked deans around BLAII if they wanted the metal detectors here.

“No,” Dean Richards said, “because the staff has to go through them as well.”
Many people especially disagree with the detectors’ location. Dean Richards said, “It should be in front of every school [entrance]; it would make our jobs easier.” Community members must walk around the whole campus just to go through the checkpoint, which takes time out of the school day. Students who usually come to school at around 8:20 are now showing up to first period late or not at all. Hannah Hernandez, a junior in BLAII, said ¨I feel like
we are untrusted. This school has no trust in us.¨ When asked if she wanted the metal detectors here, she said, ¨I feel that the metal detector isn’t going to make it safe, because the situation was outside of the school.” She explained: ¨Since Freshman year I have felt safe, but now I question my safety because of the metal detectors. If the school wasn’t safe then metal detectors should have included before.¨ We asked Hannah her thoughts on the location of the metal detector, and she stated, ¨The location isn’t fair because [BLAII students] have walk across the campus and we have
to climb [many sets of] stairs.¨

Another student, who wanted to be identified only by her first name, Jessica,
told us, ¨To be honest, I feel like a prisoner, and it’s so much work putting my stuff away.¨ When asked if she wanted the detector here, she stated, ¨ No I do not, it’s not [because of] something we did and we shouldn’t be punished for it. I won’t say that I feel safe with the metal detector because there are situations that could be bad that don’t require weapons.¨ When asked her thoughts on the location, she stated, ¨I don’t care about the location, I just want it to be taken away.¨

While teachers did not have to go through the scanners because of their DOE background checks, many still held opinions on the subject. Mr. Mastin stated
that he did not believe metal detectors were necessary because he thinks we have a safe community. When asked if he felt safer with or without scanner he said in both circumstances we are safe. However, he believes that “the location is an inconvenience especially for teachers who teach fi rst period classes.”

When the BLAII Times asked Ms. Getzel if she felt safer with the metal detectors, she responded: “To be honest I don’t think it has any impact.” She then continued, saying, “I used to work at Clinton where students go through scanners every day. It was a relief to know BLAII students are trusted. I [can] appreciate random scanning, but it’s concerning that it has increased recently. I think it’s okay if it’s necessary, but it changes the original culture of BLAII.”

Meet Mr. Sowa by Sharlene O.

Advanced Placement United States History is a difficult class for high school juniors. It’s for honors students recommended by their sophomore-year teachers. If you don’t maintain a minimum grade average you can be kicked out.
It is also a college credited class, meaning it’s as hard as an actual college class and has a college-like teacher. That teacher, Mr. Sowa, says the best way to succeed is to focus more on actually learning, rather than on what grade you might get.

“The best thing a student could do in any class is to actually learn rather than just completing assignments and trying to get a grade,” Mr. Sowa said. “The students I see who are most successful are the ones who try to learn first and apply their learning to whatever the assignment is. It’s not about filling out worksheets or writing stuff it’s about trying to learn. That’s my advice.”

His casual, conversational style may not seem like hard work, but he said it comes with risks. It requires that students adjust their expectations.
“The hardest part of my job is feeling like a failure a lot of the time. All teachers want to be amazing at their jobs. Anyone who wants to be a teacher wants to have a great impact on their students. But it’s really hard to see the progress people make and sometimes you feel you’re not getting anyone anywhere,” he said.

The easiest part, he said, is hanging out with students. “I enjoy hanging out with kids, especially high school kids, who are closer to not being kids.”

Mr. Sowa has different styles for his two challenging classes. For Government classes, he spends more time explaining the worksheets he gives out and puts more notes on the board. In comparison, in the AP class he usually gives out documents and tells his students to make sense of it themselves. There is a lot more reading in the AP class, and it’s more complex.

“For the AP class, there is less broken down material. The expectation is that you are able to figure out more for yourself,” he said. “I’ve been teaching for a while now so I have a lot of experience. Learning from the people I work with and learning from students in terms of what works and what doesn’t.”

Mr. Sowa has learned from other teachers at BLA II too. He said Ms. Lobianco and Ms. Lukelith helped him grow as a teacher. And there are others, too.
“Ms. Callihan was a good mentor of mine when I first came here. Mr. Flynn, Ms. Jacobson, there’s so many people.”

In college, Mr. Sowa came to love history because of his own history teacher. Soon he was passionate about it. The more he learned about the subject, the more he wanted to become a history teacher.

“I know a lot about history now and when you know a lot about something, it makes your passion for it grow,” he said.

Opinion: School Uniforms Are a Good Thing by Leslie T.

Many students in our community complain about wearing uniforms to school. I often overhear students saying that their uniforms are ugly or uncomfortable. People also feel that the uniform negatively impacts the way they present themselves to others because the outfit does not represent who they are.

I believe we need to understand that how we dress reflects who we are. First impressions matter. We judge others based on how they dress–especially when meeting them for the first time. People who wear sneakers and sag their jeans might make an observer believe they are thugs who like to hang out on the street. On the other hand, if they wear dress shoes, khaki pants and a nice shirt, they are automatically seen as educated.

Finally, our uniforms mean that BLAII has fewer bullying problems. Bullying occurs in high school mostly based on someone’s appearance. In our school, everyone looks the same because we wear the same shoes and uniform shirts. This means that bullies have almost nothing to use when they need a reason to pick on someone.

African Immigration Discrimination by Leslie T.

In elementary school, I was called “an African booty-scratcher” for answering a question incorrectly in class. I felt offended by what my classmate said, but I didn’t take it too seriously since I was very young. Some Americans born in the United States view immigrants as people they have never seen before and their cultures as being way different from American culture. Even at school, students of African descent are often discriminated against because of their clothes, religion, language, and physical appearance. A student from Africa who goes to school in the Bronx told me, “Two girls and one boy were laughing at me because I wore a scarf to school and they asked, ‘Is this part of your culture or are you doing this for fun?’”

It’s not appropriate to disrespect someone's culture—that’s like my saying celebrating Halloween is stupid. Not everyone in the world is the same. There are many different religions, cultures, and races in the world. Although many Americans view immigrants as outsiders, 13.3 percent of the United States population are immigrants (over one million people). As of 2015, 4.4 percent of those million people are African immigrants. America’s history is built upon immigrants and the ideas these people contributed to make America as great as it is today.

However, in 2015, our Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump tweeted, “My grandparents didn’t come to America all the way from Germany to see it get taken over by immigrants. Not on my watch.” There are many stereotypes about African immigrants here in the United States. African students experience a lot of discrimination, sometimes just because kids can be cruel and say inappropriate things. Since I was young, I've witnessed kids who are not from here being harassed about where they come from. Kids talked about how their parents couldn’t afford to buy them shoes, so they walked around barefoot. Although social media portrays Africa as a place where people live in huts, walk around with no clothes or shoes, hunt for food, etc., these stereotypes are not true.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian novelist who writes books about her life experiences in Nigeria and America. During her 2009 TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Adichie talks about her roommate questioning Adichie about her culture and how she lives. Adichie explains, “She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove.” She also states, “ She asked if she could listen to what she called my ‘tribal music,’ and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey.” Explaining to Americans that anything you have here in the United States is present in Africa as well is very frustrating. Successful celebrities are known all over the world, so why wouldn’t people in Africa know about these people as well? Adichie thought about why he roommate would think of Africa like this and she finally realized why. She came to understand why her roommate said this. She states, “If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner. I would see Africans in the same way that I, as a child, had seen Fide's family.” Africa on social media has been made into a joke, but children are dying of hunger due to legacies of imperialism and the actions of corrupt governments. Poverty and overcrowding strike Africa as well. Yet, there’s poverty all over the world—I want to know why Africa comes up when people talk about this issue.

On behalf of all immigrants, I’m not saying Americans should do what immigrants are doing, but respect them and allow them to be who they are without feeling uncomfortable. After all, in 2015, President Obama explained, “We don’t simply welcome new immigrants, we don’t simply welcome new arrivals—we are born of immigrants. That is who we are. Immigration is our origin.” The person who discovered America was an immigrant—why hate on immigrants if they were the ones who made America? If you experience discrimination, make sure you correct whatever the person or group of people is saying to you and prove them wrong.

Conflict Between Students by Emmanuella Sally C.

Students in my class told me that last year there were a lot of fights at Bronx Leadership Academy II (BLAII), especially during lunch and gym. This year, the number of fights has gone down, but I didn’t know why. I asked our dean, Ms. Grayman, what made the number of fights decrease from last year to this year. She told me that there used to be longer periods for lunch and gym, and there tended to be more fights then. But now that lunch and gym have shorter periods, and there are more teachers around, students know that they’ll be given detention or suspension for getting into fights. So, it affects the students, and they reduce the fighting. According to one source from 2011, “twenty percent of high school students were bullied at school and thirty-three percent reported being involved in a physical fight last year. In nearly one month, six percent of high school students stayed home because they felt unsafe on their way to school.”

I wanted to know more, so I interviewed Ms. White, a Substance Abuse Prevention Intervention Specialist, after she came to speak to my class about conflict resolution. We spoke two times, in her office and in my French classroom after class.

Emmanuella: May I know the purpose of your job at BLAII?

Ms. White: My purpose here at BLAII is to do prevention lessons for students in the ninth and tenth grades, to prepare them for their experience in high school.

E: What is a conflict resolution?

Ms. W: A conflict resolution is when there’s an argument between two people that cannot be resolved by itself. However, with a mediator or a person to intervene between the two, we are looking for solutions to a problem...and it should be a win-win situation where everyone is comfortable with the resolution to their problem.

E: OK, how does conflict resolution work?

Ms. W: Conflict resolution works in one way in particular: having all parties involved present for a meeting. Each side presents their concerns, [and they look] for a compromise to the problem where each person is in agreement about a resolution.

E: How can students let things go, and not lead to conflict?

Ms. W: For me, in doing classroom presentations, various aspects of what conflicts are [so] students begin to look at them, and recognize them...“Oh, that looks like a conflict. And, what’s a solution?” Rather than thinking, “I have to be always right.”

E: What specifically can they do?

Ms. W: The students can actually learn the skill, and put it to practice... They can actually see something occurring within the school environment, and make suggestions on how the problems can be solved.

E: What are some skills for students to learn?

Ms. W: a) Recognize that problems do exist; b) that problems can be solved; c) if they are not prepared to solve the problems, they could look to a trusted adult for resolution to their problems; and/or d) perhaps recognize that they can solve problems, and apply the skills that they have learned.

E: How do you decide when to stick up for yourself, and when to let it go?

Ms. W: If it’s a violent situation involving fights, you’re not looking for the best way to fight, you’re looking for the best way to not engage in fighting.

Why is it important for students to think about the consequences before they fight? According to the Child Trends Data Bank, “Youth attending schools where fighting is common may be unable to maintain the focus necessary for academic success.” Most students I know want to do well in school so they can go to college. I’m glad to be here, and I’m glad the fights have decreased, so, hopefully, we can all go to college and be successful in life.