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I grew up attending a segregated school – a place that shouldn’t exist in our era, but does. A school that had separate lunch tables, separate bleachers at football games, and separate ballots. My seven-year old brain could not comprehend why my best friend Kerria’s name was not listed under mine when we both ran for class favorite, but it was instead under a ballot reading “Black class favorite.” I didn’t understand why she sat opposite of me, on the visitor’s side, at football games. “It’s just the way things are.” My mother’s words offered me no comfort, only irritating me greater and pushing me to find answers.
I always met Kerria in the red dirt at those games, where our failed attempts at sand castles and Mississippi mud pies spurred the beginning of a friendship that will withstand the test of time. Sadly, I did not meet a person of Asian ethnicity until I was fourteen years old, when I visited my cousins in Texas and they took me out for Chinese food. My small hometown of Waynesboro, Mississippi is not culturally diverse and until recently, had no Asian restaurants or Asian residents. This town offers no help in the advancement of minority groups, and the town’s people, who have grown up being taught to hate, are not welcoming. The ugly history of African American abuse, discrimination, and brutality is deeply rooted in my hometown, and although I see the town changing for the better, it is a slow change that may take generations to correct. This town is the ugly stereotype of Mississippi, representing fully every negative notion about racism in this state. It is everything I am striving not to be.
The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science offers one of the most enhancing, challenging, and rewarding high school experiences, both inside and outside the classroom. Here, I have been exposed to every major religion, language, and ethnicity, something I never could have imagined living in Waynesboro. I am surrounded by students who are so different than I am, yet we are all facing the same challenges that MSMS gives us. Together, undivided by skin color or religion, we derive calculus problems, perfect lab reports, play sports, and teach one another how to do laundry. Here, there are no prejudices against ethnicity, opinions are respected, and feelings are always taken into consideration. Often, MSMS is referred to as the most diverse square block in the state of Mississippi, which is truly fitting, but it is also one of the most enrapturing places. I worry that the ugly parts of Mississippi are embedded in me, that they may shine through no matter where I go. My biggest fear is that I will be stuck in the merry-go-round of my hometown, fearing change and rebelling against any sign of it. I see Kerria, my first friend, independent and strong willed just like me, and I know that I could never be unjust to her or anyone based on their appearance.
I will forever view the world with open eyes, observing every inch of it, never judging, and always accepting. My Mississippi is my hometown, because that is where my roots are, but my Mississippi is also a place of diverse unity.
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