Recently, the City of Asheville announced the winners of the Do the Write Thing (DtWT) essay contest, six contestants from ACS and six from the Bumcombe County Schools. The BCS winner was 8th grader Noah Graham from North Bumcombe Middle School. From Asheville City Schools, a seventh-grader at Asheville Middle named Caroline Barton won with her poem titled 'I AM.' This is her entry for the contest:
I am many things to many diverse people.
I am troubled.
I am poor.
I am different.
I am a survivor.
I am a prisoner.
I am a liar.
I am shrouded.
I am lost.
I am “troubled.”
Says the file in the principal’s office.
Says the white kids, glares in their eyes
and suspicious glances at lunch.
Says my parents, one in jail and another working three jobs.
I am poor.
I live in the projects.
I live in the “don’t-drive-here-at-night.”
The Quik Mart on the familiar corner, graffiti swooping over the forest-green dumpsters.
The harsh bars over the dingy windows and doors
prove that even our own think we’re monsters.
I am different.
My family, fractured.
Dad in the pen for something he didn’t do.
Mom, coming home too tired to think.
Much too tired to give a solitary thought about me
My brother, already up and gone and into “the bad stuff,”
my mother says.
‘Don’t think about selling drugs,’ she tells me.
Don’t try getting into what Jamal got into.
Don’t try to shoot a friend, it doesn’t even matter what the reason is.
I am the ultimate survivor, many times over.
I saw many things:
I saw innocent blood on the sidewalk.
I saw police cars pull up too late to save a life.
I saw a loaded gun, wedged between Jamal’s shirts in his drawer.
That was the gun that solemnly swore me into secrecy.
I am a prisoner to myself, inextricably bound by a shameful secret.
I saw Jamal pull a gun on his family.
I saw my brother,
Jamal. Affectionately, J.
The brother I had admired.
The man who had taught me how to live.
Always get revenge.
Fists decide things, not words.
The rules told me how to survive in this hateful world.
But then I saw him shoot to kill.
I saw him shoot.
The steel tool that tormented my soul.
Its steel parts gleamed in the streetlamp’s light.
Jamal raised the weapon and killed the person who
was trying to do right.
His own half-brother, DeVante
A shoot-out for all the wrong reasons.
DeVante wasn’t armed.
He was walking with his hands in his sweatshirt pockets, alone.
He was grieving; his pitbull Chance had just died.
But J didn’t know, nor did he want to.
DeVante looked suspicious, and when he stopped
and talked to his half-brother,
Jamal thought he was up to no good.
My best friend, not just my sort-of brother.
He used to talk late into the night when he came over.
Girls, school, why we lived here, in the dredges of society
We would ask each other hard questions.
He would answer my own better than even Jamal could.
We were half-brothers, but we were blood brothers.
I loved him better than I ever loved Jamal.
The police arrived too late as usual.
Too late to arrest Jamal, who was long gone
Too late to save DeVante
With a bullet in his gut
I heard J’s words in my mind,
as clear as day.
“Never snitch, especially not to the police.”
I am a liar.
Our “protectors” asked roughly for information.
They picked people out of the crowd at random.
Mr. Harrison, who runs the Quik Mart.
Ms. Shanice, the nice candy lady.
Asia, who lives five flimsy doors down.
A few others I didn’t know.
All here, down in the shallow recesses of life.
I divulged nothing.
No, I didn’t see it happen.
No, I am not close to the “alleged suspect.”
No, I didn’t know who the “alleged suspect” might be.
No, I didn’t know who was shot.
No, I don’t come here often.
No, I don’t know where the gun is.
I am nothing to them.
They think we're dirt.
They don't know us.
I am lost, I am a ghost.
A nameless, faceless, brown-skinned ghost.
They asked me questions about my two favorite people
and some I couldn’t answer.
How could I, with DeVante dead
and Jamal, my own brother, a murderer?
I tried hard not to cry, sitting awkwardly on the sticky vinyl chair.
J’s rules say I can’t cry.
Jamal was even worse than Father Williams.
He preached those rules like they were God’s sacred laws
But he was gone.
And he had killed.
Did anything he says really matter anymore?
I put my head down slowly and let the dams break.
Tears rolled down my cheeks,
my shoulders shook.
A loud sound escaped me, a sound I’d never heard before.
A sob, a cry.
My safe spaces.
Both gone from my life.
I was alone, I was vulnerable.
I am lost.
The next day.
The world has ended but life still goes on.
I walk wearily by the corner where Jamal killed DeVante.
I see the blood on the cracked sidewalk.
Mr. Harrison stands a good ten feet away from the dark pool,
spraying the area carefully with a hose.
The light hits the water just right,
creating a rainbow within the droplets.
A light in the drowning darkness.
I whisper to myself and hope that DeVante will come back.
Or that I will go to meet him.
*Note: this story is fictional. I composed this poem to highlight the feelings of those who have seen terrible things, things that cannot be told again.
Story by Caroline Barton