Recently, the New York Times ran an incredible story of two girls, Cristal and Queen, who befriended each other as freshmen, met a teacher who took them both under her wing, and, against all odds graduated from the High School of International Business and Finance last week.
New York Times Photo
“The Dominican boys in the back of the freshman English class at the high school in Washington Heights were making fun of the timid African-American girl, Queen Bond. One of the boys got down on one knee in front of her as if he were Romeo — they had been studying “Romeo and Juliet” — and delivered the final crushing insult.
“He was saying something about that I smelled,” recalled Queen, now 17. “I just put my head down. I started crying.”
Then something remarkable happened, she said: “Cristal stood up.” Cool, streetwise, 4-foot-11-inch Cristal Pimentel.
“This short, like, two-foot-tall person is standing up to these guys who are up to the ceiling,” Queen said. “She’s screaming, getting angry, waving her arms. She stood up, she defended me. No one ever stood up for me in that way.
“I’m, like, ‘Wow, this girl is the most beautiful person.’ ”
Theirs is a heroic story of two “warriors for education”. Each had to muster up the courage to do battle with a student culture that actively devalued school achievement; and each had difficult home lives, Cristal’s included multiple foster homes.
New York Times Photo
It is a story of a teacher who went over and above to take care of them both academically and emotionally. There were days that Cristal sat in Mrs. Smith’s office all day, without saying a word.
“Ms. Smith made me feel that everything that happened wasn’t my fault,” Cristal said. “She said I was a shining light, that I’m a great person.”
This is such a wonderful story of the power of the human spirit, of friendship, and of courage. Both Cristal and Queen will attend SUNY New Paltz in the fall. It has inspired me and I celebrate their success.
On the other hand it raises questions:
How can we tolerate “factories of failure” where fewer than 50% of our students graduate?
How can we protect the many children that are bullied and harassed in our schools?
How is it that we have let the culture of failure take root and strangle so many beautiful flowers like Queen Bond, who strive to succeed?
How is it that we have become so focused on test scores that many gentle and lovely souls from difficult backgrounds go unnoticed, unappreciated, unsupported?
Thank you Queen. Thank you Cristal…and thank you Carol Smith.