“I’m sorry, Rikiyah, but we have to expel you. You can come back to Baker next school year.” My heart dropped out of my stomach; the room started to spin. I felt bile rise up in my throat. I started to cry. All at once, I was back in that moment, wishing to undo the fight that landed me in this meeting. Once again, I felt the fists flying, hair pulling and that eyeful of Ronda’s pepper spray. My eyes burned, my temper flared, and we were separated by a good Samaritan who pulled over and made sure I got help walking to the gas station for water to clear my eyes. I was so ashamed. The rest of my sophomore year was extremely rough. I had to find another school to attend. Few schools were willing to accept a student who had been expelled for fighting. An alternative school was willing to take me in, but I passed on that opportunity after hearing all the terrible things that go on in those types of schools, like fighting and lack of education. After two months of not attending any school, I had no choice but to go to my neighborhood school, Bowen High School. I went there for the rest of my sophomore year. It was a completely different environment from that at Baker. It had more freedom, but barely anybody came to school. Students ditched school and class. They cursed and swung at the teachers. They had fights with other students. I didn’t feel safe at all because the students got in arguments with the security guards. I couldn’t learn the way I learned at Baker. At Bowen, I had no friends at all, because everyone had cliques and made fun of me. I felt completely out of place. I missed my old school. I missed the way the teachers looked out for the students and the students looked out for each other. I liked that Baker students didn’t harm one another in school or disrespect the teachers in any way. While I was over there at Bowen, I didn’t have anyone to talk to or help guide me on blending in with the school. Everyone already had their cliques and didn’t want anyone else joining them. I missed the way my friends looked after me and I just missed Baker in general. It made me reflect on the terrible thing I had done. It made me say to myself, “Don’t ever lower yourself to negative things, because negativity leads you to horrible, messed-up situations in life.” I matured and became independent and responsible. While attending Bowen, I turned 16 and got a job at Starbucks. It was a new experience for me, because I met all types of people and worked somewhere I never pictured myself. Currently working there, I help take care of my family, contribute towards paying bills, take my schoolwork more seriously and turn everything in on time. In the end, the fight didn’t ruin my life. It was a mistake that led to a new, positive and mature me. It taught me to never lower myself to negativity and pander to those who feed on this negativity. I am proud of who I am. I believe that college is the key to my success and that failure is never an option.
This essay is Rikiyah's personal statement for college applications.
Photo by @CassMcD, Twenty20-licensed.
Rikiyah Lewis is a senior at Baker College Prep, a campus of the Noble Network of Charter Schools located in the South Chicago neighborhood.