Creative Writing

Sri Lanka

I squint toward the rows of tea plants that stretched for miles. I was standing on a small peak that overlooked hundreds of tea plantations. The sun was burning harshly against my thin cotton kameez and I shifted uncomfortably as I waited for my younger siblings and parents to join me. It was definitely not my choice to wear a salwar kameez- the long cotton dress worn with loose fitting pants by many women of South Asian cultures, but my mom wanted me to embrace my heritage while visiting her native country. Although it was hotter than I was accustomed to in New Jersey, there was a heavy breeze that came with being in the mountainous ranges of Sri Lanka’s Uva province.

The fertile lands were filled with the small green leaves that would be handpicked for the Lipton tea company. These tea leaves would eventually be exported to the homes of tea drinkers around the world while creating job opportunities for millions of impoverished Sri Lankans. I smiled as I saw little green dots walk along the tea plant rows, colorful women toiling hard in the fields with coconut leaf woven baskets on their backs.

I swiftly lifted my dress as my sandals sank into the moist mud. When I reached my family, my dad was speaking to a young woman who couldn’t have been much older than me. She had beautiful dark skin that was worn like leather, despite her young age. Her basket was filled to the top with the small tea leaves that surrounded us. Her darker complexion implied that she was a working woman- a stigma that was very prominent in Sri Lanka. As a darker skinned girl, growing up in an Asian family, I sympathized with her. She too had probably been told that she was too dark and that “no one would marry a dark girl.” Yet she had so many challenges that I did not, slaving in a plantation for little with no opportunity for an education.

I couldn’t understand their conversation and the words seemed foreign and guttural. I tried to follow, but it frustrated me that I couldn’t comprehend. Not speaking either Tamil or Sinhala had its disadvantages, as I always felt a disconnect to my country and to my family. I had never had a full conversation with my grandparents before they passed, and I always needed someone to translate. Being a vocal student and active member of my community made me accustomed to using my words, and whenever I was in Sri Lanka I was stripped of this. I realized that when in Sri Lanka, I was robbed of using my voice just as she was robbed of opportunity.

I snapped out of my thoughts just in time- my dad and the woman were staring at me, waiting for a response. I looked to my dad, my eyes pleading for help.

“She asked you what you want to be when you grow up.” said my father.

My goals seemed little and insignificant, but I replied with my fresh American accent. “I want to be a journalist. I want to tell people’s stories and change the world. I want to help others and bring a voice to those who lost theirs.”

It was in the moment of realizing that in Sri Lanka I was unable to fully express myself that I realized I wanted to be a bridge between communities.

The woman nervously laughed. I knew it. She hadn’t understood. My dad smiled and told her I wanted to be a big time writer in America.

“When you become a writer,” she started, “Come back and write about us. We only make 500 rupees but the men make 1500,” she finished, referring to some of the male tea pluckers behind her and the harsh pay wage gap in Sri Lanka.

And so, one day, I will.

Written by Mariyum Rizwan. Originally published in June 2020.


If the World Were a Movie

I am Hannah Flores, a 17-year-old award-winning spoken word poet from Toronto, Ontario Canada and I hope to put smiles on my audience’s faces in this era of uncertainty, changing the world one poem at a time.

My film/poem is the Winner of the 2020 Write the World Spoken Word Poetry Competition, a current Semi-Finalist film for the 2020 Lift-Off Global Network First-Time Filmmaker Sessions and a Changing Minds (Community Access Inc.) Film Festival 2020 Featured Film.

This was entirely filmed, written, produced, directed, and voiced by me, and I was inspired by the millions of quarantine stories from around the globe. I love to travel, and I am deeply saddened that I will be stuck at home for a while, so I incorporated some footage from my travels throughout the film. Being born in the height of the SARS outbreak, having lived through the Ebola crisis and now living in the Covid-19 pandemic has given me a unique perspective on human behaviour patterns in health-related epidemics. It has further fueled my passions for global health and neuroscience.

I have been an advocate for student voice across my school board for the past 6 years and that is what inspired me as well to create my podcast Punchline! with hannahfloresthepoet which delivers poetry and perspective for the young and the young at heart on all platforms (Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, etc.).  Every Friday, I will discuss the issues that young people want to hear about and I am currently calling for guests to be on the show! This is open to anyone who wishes to be featured and talk about something that they are passionate about, as I want my platform to continue to be a megaphone for all types of student voices and stories.

As Covid-19 continues to envelope the lives of people across the globe, we must not lose ourselves in the process. We need to practice social distancing, but we cannot socially distance ourselves from each other’s humanity. Everyone must think outside of themselves, as this is a frightening and unprecedented moment in time where we are all in the same boat. It is difficult to stay grounded but do not lose hope, we will get past this together.

Below you can find the written version of her short film “If the World Was A Movie.”

If The World Was A Movie
Written and performed by: Hannah Flores

This poem is dedicated to the people of the world

I know a place
That’s always moving
Where there’s something in the air that makes sleep useless

If The World Was A Movie
You would see so many people walk by
And never stop to notice
As if they are just extras
But what if I told you
That they are the movie
We are the movie

If the world was a stop motion film
Each picture would be a moment frozen in time
Yet still moving forward
Like bad internet service
Claustrophobia ensues as we quarantine ourselves with our own fear
Thursday March 12, 2020 was the first day that I felt trapped in my own hand washing
Turning the Happy Birthday song into a timer
Dehydrating my sense of hope and my skin all at the same time

While some of us are basking in our privilege
Of stockpiling things
Not out of need, but our own fear
If the world was a movie
It would expose how those who bought wipes to resell and made $100,000 off of innocent, scared people
And how those who bought enough food to feed a village
Still look down on those fleeing war and famine with no Walmart to turn to
And it would tell them that any phobia is a toxin in itself

Or maybe it’s a silent film
In a world where you see colour but everything feels black and white
With 5 million children out of school right now you’d think it would be louder
Where I realize that by the time this poem is finished, all of my stats will be outdated
And there are so many voices screaming at you from all directions
Saying everything and nothing that you want to hear
To the point where your native tongue sounds like a foreign language
To the point where you drown out this flood until it turns to white noise
Then nothing at all

What if the film was a black screen
All the lights, cameras and actions are out
Sun extinguished and stars left to wander

Smothered by a red sea of businesses dropping like flies
Where we’re all left in the dark

But this grey area
Sets a backdrop for colour
A home for sun-spilled faces

If the world was a movie
I’d kaleidoscope the technicolor stories that we hold behind our eyes
How we build bridges, write books and try not to hold grudges
The heart of a cosmopolitan among the cosmos
We are nothing short of stars
Each mind a new kit of lenses to take different angles on the same avenues
The key is our delicate balance of thinking independently together
Threads of streets woven into grand tapestries

If the world was a film
It would have no beginning, middle or end
It would just play on
Imagine all of this
Translated by the cry of time moving through us
But COVID-19 would only last for one frame

If I made a movie about the world
I would tell you not to socially distance ourselves from each other’s humanity

A documentary of diversity
Where divided nations
Form a unifying pulse
An involuntary muscle with conscious intent
Of not cancelling hope
Not cancelling love
Not cancelling life
Employing the trillions of cells in our bodies to keep moving

Cinema can be the most beautiful fraud in the entire world
But what if I told you that this is real

What if I made a movie about the world
My beloved home
Where the extras avoiding cracks in the sidewalks
Become the stars
Beacons of light in falls of Broadway darkness
Where we are the movie

Written by Hannah Flores.

*This post was originally published in June 2020.

community outreach


By Zikora Akanegbu

It’s common for teenage girls to look one another up and down and focus on the exterior: shoes, clothes, face. It’s one reason why teen girls can see each other as competitors, fighting despite a longtime campaign for unity. The question, then, is: how do we break this cycle? How do we uplift teen girls in our age of infinite connectedness and social media. I decided to take the issue into my own hands.

This year I founded GenZHER, a youth-led organization that aims to empower, connect, and inspire Gen Z girls and young women; those born in the mid-1990’s to 2012. Many people are surprised when I inform them I started my own organization as a fifteen-year-old high school freshman. Being a young, female founder involves a lot of resilience, hard work, and being your own champion. And when I began to doubt myself, I reminded myself of the reasons why I started this in the first place. After constantly seeing how Gen Z girls were being cruel to one another in school and cyber-bullied online too, I recognized that a platform like GenZHER was needed. I created this platform to promote an inclusive environment for Gen Z girls to inspire, empower, and connect with one another. In a time of divisiveness and hate, I wanted a space for girls to not be afraid to speak their truth and to build a community. I believe our generation has strengths in both togetherness and diversity because although we can be competitive, we’re accepting. Gen Z sees beyond what a person is at face-value, by allowing people to not only be one aspect of themselves, but rather just be.

I see my organization, GenZHER, as being a place to talk about passions and triumphs, favorite books and movies, have meaningful conversations, but also as a place to ask for advice and unload struggles. I’m doing this so that solidarity and inclusivity can continue to grow between all Gen Z girls. GenZHER has a commitment to societal change. We encourage Gen Z girls to share their stories and creatively write their views and perspectives on a wide range of issues including, social justice, mental health, and more. Through my organization, Gen Z girls and young women from around the world can connect with other, as I like to call, “Gen Z-hers.” I believe in using the power of writing to empower others, shifting culture forward, and driving social change. I know that Gen Z girls are intelligent, powerful, creative, and capable of doing amazing things; the exact opposite of what society says we are supposed to be. As a “Gen Z-her” myself, I am starting young to take a stand for what I believe in and I am inspiring others to get involved.

Our generation has the power to demand that their stories be heard and the power to impact change. Look at climate change activist Greta Thunberg, or UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Millie Bobby Brown, Nadya Okamoto, founder of PERIOD, or social and STEM activist, Yara Shahidi. All of the “Gen Z-hers” I have mentioned have contributed to our national discourse by using their identities to reflect the social issues they care about, consequently pushing the status quo. Society underestimates us because they see us as the generation addicted to our smartphones, procrastinating, constantly scrolling through Instagram and making fifteen-second dance videos on TikTok. But by being connected everywhere, we are also excellent communicators who are entrepreneurial and independent. Our generation is incredibly outspoken and we unfailingly express ourselves passionately, truthfully, and creatively. We are not only shaping the future, we are changing the present.

You can check out GenZHER here.

Originally published in April 2020.

community outreach

The Change is in Our Hands

By Joseph Mel, age 17

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Tweet from President Donald J. Trump in November 2012

Climate change has become a prevalent environmental issue within current day society. The sea-levels are rising due to the polar ice caps melting, there is an increased humidity throughout areas where there shouldn’t be, and oceans are also increasing in temperature. Humanity is one of the causes of such a fast decline in our environment. From large industries such as animal agriculture, or companies that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, to fast fashion, these are all industries that can be both unethical and harmful towards the environment. One may argue that these are factors that we cannot control, however that couldn’t be further from the truth. Every person has a carbon footprint which is a receipt of how they contribute to carbon emissions as well as general waste that enables climate change.

One reason why this is a pressing issue is because people are failing to accept the fact that climate change is real. Greta Thunberg is a teenage activist who began her mission on fighting the climate crisis by sitting outside the Swedish parliament while she was meant to be in school. Even President Donald J. Trump has been vocal about her actions tweeting, “So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!” This is a demonstration of how having someone with as much influence as the president, shaming and discrediting someone who is shining light on an issue, can further cause it to be swept under the rug. Furthermore, in popular culture it is common to label people who are considerate about the environment “hippies” and depict them as spaced out personalities that are conservative in this regard. This contributes to the lack of consideration on the climate crisis because it gives the masses who watch the media a false sense of what is actually happening. Moreover, this generates a stereotype amongst people who are trying to bring attention to these issues, which automatically retreats the masses who are already skeptical of the topic. Although, there has been a bit of progression due to protests that send a message to the higher-ups of these corporations that change should come

The real examples lie within the ecosystems that are failing and the people that are suffering on behalf of climate change. An example of this includes the Caribbean coral reefs and how it has a timeline to only exist for twenty more years. While pollution and a case of tragedy of the commons may seem to also play a role in this ecosystem, climate change leads to the warming of ocean temperatures which in turn leads to coral bleaching. Coral bleaching is a process in which corals are influenced by the changes in the ocean from temperature or light. Then the coral turns white due to the change in algae living in the cells of the coral. This then affects the species that live in this ecosystem, leading to a lack in biodiversity. Similarly, humans once again, can be credited for the harm that is coming to society. There are many industries that exploit the environment that as people no one really thinks much about. An example of this is the animal agriculture industry. This industry cuts down hundreds of acres of trees in order to adjust for farming land that will raise livestock. This system is in order to mass produce meat for the consumption of people in the U.S. A problem with this is how in order to produce all this meat it comes at the expense of cutting down trees, which is harmful as it adds to carbon dioxide emissions. Then raising animals such as cows also contributes to the greenhouse gases since they are given specific hormones in their food in order to make them grow large enough to slaughter. They then release gas which contributes to the greenhouse emissions.

Another human contribution to the climate crisis is something that wouldn’t really be expected: the fashion industry. Fast fashion is inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. It takes away original ideas from designers on the runway and makes a knock-off version just two weeks later. Production is cheap and low quality through unethical overseas sweatshops that import this clothing. Fast fashion is typically unsustainable as it now takes “roughly 145 million tons of coal and between 1.5 and 2 trillion gallons of water” to produce fiber. This overuse of material contributes to the tragedy of the commons, a phenomenon that states that the more we use earth’s natural resources, the quicker we run out of them. Additionally since fast fashion is cheap, low quality, and designed to be disposed of once it’s out of style, most clothing items end up in landfills. 80 percent of our textiles are doomed to this fate and can sit on the planet as a pollutant while they take up to 200 years to decompose, releasing methane and further contributing to climate change. Fast fashion overall is another contributing factor to our planet’s demise that only consumers (regular people) can change.

Climate change is a pressing issue that only humanity can resolve through their lifestyle decisions. If society truly invested the time to understand all of these facets to the decline of ecosystems, then we would be on the road to recovery. It is only a matter of time before things become irreversible. On an international scale, we must protect our planet from this exhaust in order to preserve it for generations to come. Finally, I leave you with this, is this going to be a generation that leads to the demise of our planet due to the economic powers and political agendas that completely disregard the safety of our environment? Or are we going to protect Mother Earth the best we can?

This post was originally published in April 2020.

Foster Care

What Not to Say to a Foster Kid

Hi! It’s Tiffany here, creator of In the Write. As many of you know, I am a former foster kid and one of my many passions is bringing awareness to the American foster care epidemic. I spent nearly three years in foster care between the ages of 8-11. Despite every family’s unique situation, my foster care story is far from uncommon in the United States. Right now, there are nearly 433,000 children in foster care. Many of these kids will spend at least two years in foster care and thousands will go unadopted.

Over the years, I have talked with multiple foster youth and I am always shocked at how similar our experiences in care were, despite the drastic differences in our stories. One of the things that we all have been subject to are the ignorant and inappropriate comments and questions we are asked when people learn that we were foster youth. Most times, people don’t know they shouldn’t ask these questions or make these statements. So, I made a list of some of the most common phrases I have been asked and told, on what not to say to a foster kid.

  1. “You should be on Oprah.”
    This is one of the most popular comments I get when someone learns I was in foster care. It usually follows me uncomfortably explaining personal family matters that I was prodded about. Although it may be awkward for you the first time you hear a foster kid’s story, just know that it is likely way more uncomfortable for them, than you. Although your intentions may have been good, it’s better to stay away from phrases like this when talking to anyone who has spent time in foster care.

  1. “Why are/were you in foster care?”
    This question can be asked if you have known the person for a while, but I often got this question when I was in elementary and middle school. At the time, I just didn’t want to talk about it, and in my mind, I was always thinking, “This really isn’t any of your business.” You have to consider that it may be embarrassing or painful for them to talk about, especially to someone they don’t know well. If they want to talk to you, they will. If and when they feel ready.

  1. “Did your parents die in a car accident?”
    This usually follows the “Why are you in foster care” question. A major misconception is that most kids who enter foster care are there because of their parents’ deaths. Although this is the case for a minority of children, most youth placed in care have been subject to abuse or neglect. Many foster kids don’t even know both their parents, so this question will just make them uncomfortable or bring up unpleasant memories. (And in the rare case that their parents did both die in a car crash, this probably isn’t the best way to ask.)

  1. “Don’t worry, you’ll be going home soon.”
    I only ever was told this by friends in elementary school, which is understandable, but a lot of other kids have been told this too. Normally it comes from someone outside the family or foster family who doesn’t really understand the situation, and this phrase can fill a child with false hope. Although the goal of the foster care system is to reunite the child with their family, many kids either will age out of the system or be adopted.

  1. “Why do you call your parents by their first names?”
    After I was adopted, I was asked this question ALL THE TIME at school and whenever we left the house. The first year or so after my adoption, I still called my adoptive parents by their first names and to outsiders this seemed as if I were disrespecting my parents. In reality I was simply calling them what I always had. I would normally answer people as best I could without going into the long story of my adoption, just so they wouldn’t ask any more questions. Unfortunately to many people, this was an invitation for further up questions. So many kids today have adoptive, foster, or stepparents, so if they are calling them by their first names, just leave them be. What children call their parents is up to that family, not strangers making assumptions.

  1. “Your life is just like a movie!”
    This probably sounded good in your head, but for me this phrase is overused. Many of my close friends have said this to me after I first talked to them about my time in foster care. Although their intentions were good, this comment just isn’t. We have already experienced a lot of isolation and rude comments and most of us probably don’t think our family’s pain and heartbreak needs to be gawked at on TV.

  1. “Don’t you hate your birth parents?”
    Yes, many of us are in care due to our parents’ mistakes, but that doesn’t mean every kid is. Many parents of foster kids were in foster care and never properly learned to care for themselves, let alone a child. Some parents struggle with mental illnesses that they have no control over. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t at fault, but it just isn’t your place to be asking a child something like this. Many kids will be reunified with their parents too, so this statement just fills an already confused person with more confusing thoughts.

  1. “I feel so sorry for you.”
    “No, it’s okay! I’m good, really.” That’s normally how I respond to this statement. This comment always comes from a good place, but it is still a tricky statement. “I feel so sorry for you” and “I am sorry you had to go through that” are two different things. But I would recommend that if you are talking to a foster or former foster youth to simply stay away from the “I’m sorry” statements. It’s not your fault for whatever happened, so no need to apologize. And pity never feels nice. Instead, say something like, “I’m always here if you want to talk about it,” or a simple, “I’m glad you are in a better place” will be a lot better.


  1. “There is no way those are your parents!”
    I cannot even fathom the number of times my family and I have been told this. A lot of former foster kids get this comment because they don’t “match” their parents. Or sometimes the adoptive parents are young, like in my case, and don’t seem old enough to have kids my age. But this aside, this statement should not be condoned. I have gotten this when I am out in public with my parents from complete strangers. The worst part is, when I repeatedly tell them, “Yes, they are my parents,” they continue to ask inappropriate questions or tell me “No way!” There are many different family dynamics and you never know what has happened to that family. Look at the number of how many young girls are raped and bear children despite them still being kids themselves. They don’t need stark comments about how young they are. And adopted kids don’t need to be told who their parents are or are not. So I would suggest listening to people when they tell you who their parents are. It’s not normally something we lie about.

Thanks for reading “What Not to Say to a Foster Kid.” These are just the most common phrases I have gotten, and I can’t speak for other foster kids, but I think that a majority of us have experienced these same comments and questions.

Please reach out to me if you have any questions on foster care or how you can get involved in helping the foster community. Knowing what to say and what not to say to foster youth is the first step, but there are plenty of ways you can help the foster kids in your community right now. I’d love to give you some ideas or answer your questions, so shoot me a DM or send me an email and I will be in touch!

With love,


Art by Antonia

A message from the artist:

I was never understood as a child. I am 16, and I am still not understood. I love art because art has no definition of what is supposed to be or look like. We probably all had that experience where you drew a cat, for example, and you thought it looked good, but then you look at it far away and you’re like ‘is that a cat or a dog?’ I draw mainly because I love drawing. I love having no rules to follow, no one to impress except myself. Each drawing I draw I put love into. Even if it is “bad” I will still post it. Why? Because I learned that if I throw away each bad drawing, then I have no way of learning what I did wrong.  I stopped drawing when I was ten because my drawing didn’t look like the drawings I saw in the classroom, and I was made fun of for that. Looking back I know that I let other people’s opinions change the way that I felt about this, so I made my Instagram art page simply because I love to draw. I made this account to see if people would love it, which they do. I hope you like it too.

Have a favorite celebrity? Message @artbyme56 and see your favorite celebrity in art form! Be sure to follow them for more.

Deaf & Sign

A Bridge Between the Hearing & Silent World

For many students, high school is filled with new and exciting things: from prom, to first dances, to Friday night football games. But for Areej, high school was a challenging experience. She recalls being singled out due to her disability and bullied on numerous occasions. Diagnosed with moderate-severe hearing loss at the age of four, Areej would frequently face unique struggles. During high school, one of her teachers even told her that she would never make it to university. From then on, Areej refused to wear her hearing-aids, which left her dependent on lip-reading and made it increasingly difficult for her in the classroom. She recounts spending countless nights trying to catch up on her education.

But Areej did not let this stop her. “I was driven by a desire to prove my teachers wrong, that I could and would make something of my life.” She went on to study Information Systems with Computer Science at Brunel University and before graduating, she had already secured a position with a multinational company. But during this time, Areej began to really struggle with her hearing. Being Hard of Hearing (HoH) proved to be more difficult as an adult than a child. “There are so many more expectations of you and you’re constantly being compared,” she said. “It seemed the only solution was to get a cochlear implant, despite my parents being highly against it due to all the risks. I was convinced it was the only way I would be able to overcome all the difficulties I was facing.” Areej eventually went through with the procedure and got the cochlear implant.

Navigating the adult world and university was unfortunately not the only place Areej’s hearing loss impacted her. As the only person in her family with hearing loss, she often felt that the only person who understood her was her audiologist. Even her family had a difficult time accepting the fact that she was HoH, a common struggle for Deaf and HoH individuals. She remembers being scared to answer the phone when her parents were not home. If her aunt or uncle called, she would often be shouted at, mishear, and pass on the wrong message to her parents. It is a difficult thing for any parent to come to terms with their child being disadvantaged in a way,” she says.

But when Areej was eighteen years old, she finally began to meet other HoH people and with the help of her mother, she began to finally accept herself. With this newfound dignity, she started wearing her hearing-aids again, this time without any shame or embarrassment. While studying she also found time to take part in creative projects with her friends: photoshoots, fashion shows, and music videos. She even took part in an ASIANA Magazine
beauty pageant.

Today, Areej is a Computer Science teacher and is working to rebuke misconceptions surrounding hearing loss, which is why she started her social media platform @hear_areej. Many people think that hearing loss is an ‘old people problem,’ but Areej’s diagnosis at age four proves that this is not true. “There are also a few illnesses which can cause being HoH such as: ear infections, measles, meningitis, rubella, and mumps. To date, there is limited research on hearing loss and unfortunately it is an area which is not receiving the awareness it deserves. As a result, the real cause of many individuals’ hearing loss remains unknown.” Although an ear infection was suspected to contribute to her hearing loss, Areej herself still does not know what caused her to be HoH.

Her social media account aims to debunk misconceptions. One that Areej has heard often is that HoH people need to go to a special school or learn sign language, but for Areej and many others, this is not the case. “People often think that if you have a disability you should go to a special school, so you get the support you need. For some people this can be a preferred option, but I personally am grateful that my parents sent me to a mainstream school. It would’ve been great if I learnt sign language, but I’d have no one to sign to. It was lip-reading that helped me get through life without hearing aids.”
Areej also shared her own advice on the best ways to help a HoH person understand you. She says, “It never makes it easier for anyone to hear you if you’re shouting,” she says. “People who are HoH struggle to make out words and sounds within the noise. What does help is if you speak slower, clearer, and make sure you face them so they can lip-read you. Facetime is something I highly rely on.”

Another common misconception that Areej has found is that many people believe hearing aids make you hear perfectly, while in reality, this is false. “Hearing-aids are a treatment, not a cure. They help you hear better, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can hear everything.” When reflecting on her choice to get a cochlear implant, she said: “It would have been great if I could’ve educated the world on how to be more patient and supportive of HoH people, but I couldn’t see a way to do that so quickly. Till today, I’m really glad I went for the cochlear implant because it’s truly changed my life, the sound quality is so much better. I can hear the birds singing, which I haven’t heard since I was a kid.”

Written by Tiffany Leveille in collaboration with Areej Khan

*This story was originally published in May 2020

Personal Stories

Curls & Coils

Hey! It’s Tiffany, creator of In the Write. Below is my story on my naturally curly hair.

I was six years old the first time I had my hair straightened. My older sister used a flat iron to crush all my dark brown curls into long straight strands. She had spent hours parting my hair into what seemed like hundreds of sections, spraying oil and heat protect-ant on each layer, and then running them over with the hot iron. By the time she clamped down on my last curl I was both sweaty and excited. I ran to the mirror to take a look and found a completely different person staring back at me. My usually large and frizzy hair now lay flat and limp, falling all the way down my back. And to the horror of my sister I grabbed a spray bottle and drenched my hair with water, causing my natural curls to quickly bounce back to their original state and destroying all her hard work.

The first time I actually wore my hair straight was in kindergarten. My sister once again had spent nearly two hours parting and ironing, parting and ironing, and parting and ironing my hair. I walked into school and took a seat at the circular table where my name tag had been for more than half a year. I waited for my best friend to arrive in hopes that she would tell me my hair looked great and to stop worrying, but my teacher found me first. I said hi to her as I always did and waited for her to say hi back, but instead she said, “Hi! What’s your name?” She then proceeded to ask me if I was a new student. My teacher hadn’t recognized me.

Throughout the next couple of years in elementary and middle school I would occasionally have my sister fix my hair straight until I was old enough to use the flat iron myself. I never straightened it regularly but each time I wore my hair straight I was treated differently. I’d always get comments about how I looked prettier or that my hair looked better this way. Many people even told me I should wear my hair like that all the time. In seventh grade, a girl who was normally cruel to me said that she “actually liked me now” since my hair was straight. I didn’t understand how my natural hair caused her disdain but I soon grew used to these types of comments and wanted to wear my hair straight more often. I never truly learned how to properly care for my curly hair. I went through phases of wearing bandannas in elementary school, then I sported butchered bangs that were way too short and straggly, and then finally my go to hair style in third through sixth grade: a low frizzy ponytail caked with hairspray. This way I was able to control the frizz a little bit.

Most of the time my hair caused me to be self conscious and I truly struggled with it. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I finally started to figure out how to handle my hair. I didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to wash it everyday or how important product is. I didn’t know about bonnets or gel or deep conditioning. I’m still learning it all and some days I still want to rip my hair out when it won’t cooperate, and that’s exactly why I created this “Curls and Coils” section of the blog. Most people who have curly or coily hair grow up not knowing what the heck to do with this crazy thing growing out of their heads. Fortunately, some of us (not me quite yet) have figured it out, so I am hoping that in the “Curls and Coils” section we can share our hair journeys, stories, tips, tricks, and everything else that comes with having curly hair and maybe we can help some other curly people out too.

Even if you don’t have curly hair you can still read these stories and you’ll likely find some funny ones too. Most of us curly girls and boys have dealt with people throwing wrappers or straws in our hair without us knowing, burning chunks of our hair off from straightening it, or having really, really bad hair days. There’s plenty of other things that likely happened to our hair that we didn’t even know was possible that we simply have to laugh at and move on from. So, I hope you enjoy this section and if you want to share your curly or coily hair story, send me a message and I’d love to share it!

*This post was originally published in January 2020. The “Curls & Coils” section has now been collectively combined into our “Personal Stories” section.

Deaf & Sign

Interview with an ASL Interpreter

Interviewer: On your website, you say that you have been involved in the ASL community for nearly 10 years, what sparked your interest in learning ASL? What were the first steps you took to learning?

Chris Gorges: My first exposure to sign language was actually in Paraguay in the year 2007. I traveled there to visit some missionary friends that lived in Concepcion, and at that time they were hosting a sign language class sponsored by a local congregation. Since I was already there, I decided I would attend the classes even though they were being conducted in Spanish. With that said however, I never really pursued it any further until 2009. At that time my wife’s father was losing his hearing and we all decided that we were going to learn sign language as a family. Naturally, we started by taking classes, but we also combined that with immersing ourselves into the community as much as possible. We attended sign language meetings, went to deaf events, invited deaf friends to our home, and also received a ton of help from hearing ones that were already fluent in the language.

Interviewer: How long did it take you to become proficient in ASL? Did you have any setbacks or certain challenges that made you question continuing on your ASL journey?

Chris Gorges: Attaining proficiency in any language is a very different experience for everyone, however for myself it took a solid year before I felt proficient in the language. The language learning process is a difficult one and I think everyone at some point reaches a point where they face discouragement or setbacks of one kind or another. For me, in the beginning especially, it was very frustrating not being able to convey what it was that I wanted to say. In many respects, my language ability was no greater than a child. However, I was always reminded by my friends that I had to look at how far I had come and only compare my skill level to my previous self. Easier said than done! I think the hardest part of learning any language is the fact that you always want to be proficient as quickly as possible and it can be hard at times to be patient enough with yourself along the way.

Interviewer: Did you always know you wanted to be an interpreter? What interested you in interpreting?

Chris Gorges: The funny thing about interpreting is that it wasn’t even on my radar until years after I had learned the language. I had previously worked as a Civil Engineer since the age of 14 (in 1999) and continued to do so until the recession hit in 2008. At that time, construction came to a complete halt and nearly everyone at the company I worked for had been laid off. It wasn’t until years afterwards that I started to work as an interpreter. My brother who worked at a local college told me that they were needing interpreters there, so both my wife and I decided to go apply for the job. Little did we know we would be hired on the spot. From there on out we both fell in love with interpreting and have been doing it ever since.

Interviewer: What does the process of becoming an interpreter look like?

Chris Gorges: The process can be different for everyone. For instance, some know from an early age that they want to go into the field of interpreting which affords them the opportunity to take classes in high school or college and even attend an Interpreting Training and Preparation Program (ITP). For others, such as children of deaf adults (CODA), typically already know the language from a young age and may have had to interpret for their parents or other deaf family members growing up. Interpreting professionally can be a natural fit for them and can make the road to attaining certifications easier. For myself, I didn’t even start learning the language until I was 23. Years after learning the language, I suddenly had to learn how to interpret. Learning both the language and how to interpret on professional level was only made possible because I had a great deal of support from friends and colleagues and a good dose of grit and determination.

Interviewer: Do you have to hold a certain college degree or take certain classes?

Chris Gorges: Yes and no. You can technically become an interpreter as long has you have the skills to do so. You can even attain certifications such as the ESSE or EIPA as long as you are skilled enough to pass their evaluations. However, taking classes can be a huge catalyst for learning the language and learning the complexities and intricacies of the interpreting process. Classes will also help accelerate your skill in the language as well as your understanding of deaf culture. Likewise, a college degree is also not necessary to become an interpreter, however having a degree can not only help you become a more successful person overall, but obtaining your bachelor’s degree is a requirement for attaining the National Interpreter Certification (NIC) through the Register of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) … so long as you can pass their various exams.

Interviewer: You say that your goal is to “Provide free educational content to those that would like to learn sign language.” Why is teaching ASL so important to you? What do you believe to be the best part of teaching ASL?

Chris Gorges: There are many reasons why I think it is important for others to learn sign language, however one of the more pertinent reasons I feel strongly about is for deaf children. After working for various school districts for several years and doing extensive research on the topic, one of the more shocking things I have learned is that approximately 90% of all deaf children are born to hearing parents, and even to this day, most of those hearing parents decide to not learn or teach sign language to their children. Seeing the repercussions of that decision really becomes apparent when these children enter public schools for the first time and are suddenly bombarded by words and signs they don’t understand. To put it in perspective, according to a 2013 study done by Scholastic, a hearing child on average will be exposed to on average between 15-45 million words by the time they start school and will have an expressive vocabulary of approximately 14,000 words and a receptive vocabulary of 28,000 words (A Concise Introduction to Linguistics by Bruce Rowe). Now imagine a deaf student that is starting Kindergarten with nearly no exposure to either English or ASL and has little to no vocabulary outside of invented signs used in the home, and this child is suddenly thrown into a new learning environment expected to know words and signs he or she doesn’t understand. That not only affects them their first year in school but it affects them through the entirety of their educational career. Being a parent myself, I understand that learning another language while at the same time raising a child and working full-time is a tall order. That is why I want to make it as easy and as accessible as possible for anyone, no matter their schedule or circumstances, to have the opportunity and available resources to enable them to learn sign language. To answer your second question about what I find to be the best part of teaching ASL, I would have to say being a part of creating an environment in which these kids can thrive. In one school in particular, myself and others have been able to inspire teachers, aides, and in many cases entire classrooms to learn and use ASL. This creates a very inclusive environment in which deaf kids don’t have to worry about a communication barrier getting in the way of being themselves and affording them the opportunity to just be a kid. In fact, just a few weeks ago at the school I previously mentioned, a play based on The Jungle Book was done entirely in ASL and was performed by 4th and 5th grade students composed of hearing, hard of hearing, and deaf students. So at every school site or administration I work with, I make it my personal goal to help create this kind of inclusive environment so deaf students don’t end up being excluded or bullied. Alongside helping these students individually, creating this kind of atmosphere and environment is, to me, one of the best parts of helping others learn ASL.

Interviewer: You post many of your videos on your Instagram, where you have amassed thousands of followers. How did you grow your account and get your message out to others who wanted to learn ASL?

Chris Gorges: Like many things, it’s a learning process. Before I even got started I did a lot of research into how social media could be best utilized to reach as many people as possible. This is one of the main reasons why I decided to do what I do. Over the years, I’ve been able to help many people get past the struggles and frustrations of learning a new language and achieve the fluency they were working so hard to attain. However, as great as it felt to help the few dozen people that I knew in person, I knew that I could help even more people via social media. To date, via platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, I have been able to reach over 50,000 people with my videos, which when I pause to reflect on that is pretty daunting … but more importantly than that though is the impact my videos are having on others. The responses from many of these ones have been incredibly positive and has encouraged me to continue on with my work. If I can help even one person learn sign language and empower that person to have the ability to communicate with their child, family, friends, or others in the community, than I feel like the hundreds of hours I have invested in teaching others have been worthwhile.

Interviewer: What advice would you give to students or others who aspire to become interpreters one day?

Chris Gorges: First of all, if you are currently looking into becoming an interpreter, you are fulfilling a great need. Currently in the United States there is a huge deficit of skilled interpreters and thousands of deaf ones across the country who don’t have reliable access to interpreters that can understand them and facilitate clear and accurate communication for them. Think for a moment of not being able to clearly communicate with your doctor, a teacher, a police officer, a lawyer, a therapist, etc and what that must feel like. However this is a challenge many deaf individuals are currently dealing with on a regular basis. Know that if you become an interpreter, you will be providing a much needed service for many individuals. With that said, if you are thinking about becoming an interpreter, start learning the language, become involved in the deaf community as much as possible, learn about deaf culture, and do research into what classes and programs are available to you locally. There is no better time to start working towards a goal than right now.

Interviewer: Lastly, why is it important that more people learn sign language?

Chris Gorges: I believe learning sign language is important because it is a bridge of communication that brings people together. If there is no means of communication between you and another person, then there really isn’t a way to build a relationship with that person. That is why it is especially important for families with deaf relatives to learn sign language as well. If you want to have any relationship with that relative, then it is essential to share a common language. Beyond that though, learning sign language enables you to become a part of a huge community that is full of amazing people, and without even realizing it, it can open up a myriad of opportunities for enjoyable and fulfilling employment where you have the privilege of helping others. Emily Dickinson once said, “I dwell in possibility”, so I ask anyone reading this, dwell on the countless possibilities of what learning sign language can do for you and for others. Dwell on the end result of what fluency can enable you to accomplish, the relationships you can build, and the endless possibilities that can become a reality when you choose to make it so. The choice is ultimately yours to make. So keep in mind that the person you are today is the result of the choices you’ve made in the past, therefore the decisions you make now will reflect who you will become in the future. So, if you want to be someone that can connect and help others through the power of sign language, then the decisions you make today need to reflect that goal. For me personally, the decision to learn sign language years ago is one that I will never regret.

* This interview was originally published in January 2020.

Personal Stories

A Writer’s Calling

By AJ Morton

For almost all my life I’ve known that I was meant to write stories. I’ve always been enchanted by the idea of being able to create an entire fictional world out of a few sheets of paper and some ink. People always laugh when I tell them how I first started writing. When I was in third grade, my parents didn’t allow me to eat candy (remember that little detail; it’ll be important later). One day, I received an assignment from one of my teachers to write a short narrative essay. Third grade me was a master of procrastination and waited until the last day before the assignment was due to start on it. Coincidentally, my parents, who had always practically written my essays for me, decided to leave me home alone for that night. So, I was unable to turn to them for help.

I wanted to do something just to spite them for it, so I stole a candy bar from the jar that was conveniently placed near the computer. This may sound silly, but I owe my entire existence to that candy jar. The moment I ate that candy bar, I wanted more, and continued to eat until the jar was empty (the butt-whipping I got the next morning is a story for another time).But you see, while my parents told me I wasn’t allowed to have candy, what they didn’t tell me was why I wasn’t allowed to have candy, thus leading to the unexpected sugar rush. My mind suddenly started working triple time, and I came up with a story. Vivid details suddenly flooded into my head, and I had to do something with them. So, I wrote them.

Now, the assignment was to write two pages, but by the end of that night I had written twelve pages. And the strange thing that I noticed was that I actually enjoyed doing it. When I turned in the assignment, my teacher was amazed. She said that what I had written was the greatest work she had ever seen (so much so that she was willing to overlook the fact that it ended up having nothing to do with the prompt). It was in that moment that I realized that this was simply what I was meant to do. Speaking bluntly, writing was the only thing I was good at, and the only thing I enjoyed doing. So, I strove to become an author. And lo and behold, nine years later, I did it. In the past month, I’ve written the first of what I hope will be many novels; “The Disciples of Ubiaxus,” my greatest work yet.

What I hope people learn from my story is that everyone has something they can do for the world, and that the universe sometimes has a silly way of reminding them of it. For me it was a school assignment. For a future veterinarian, it might be a bird with a broken wing. For a future doctor, a loved one that has come down with a cold. If there is something you are meant to do, the world has its way of letting you know. All you need to do is answer its call.

This post was originally published in January of 2020.