An Open Letter to the ORR Community

Jendell Teixeira has had enough of the overlooked racism in her community. She's making a stand against it - and calling for others to do the same.



From left, Illiyana DoCanto, Jennifer DoCanto, Tori Monteiro and Jendell Teixeira stand with a homemade banner in support of a Wareham hockey player who was reportedly the target of a racial slur. Photo credit: Meghan Neely (Wareham Week)

Dear ORR Community,


My name is Jendell Teixeira, a current student at Old Rochester Regional High School, a black student to be specific. In the midst of everything that happened after the Old Rochester versus Wareham Hockey game on the night of February 10th, old feelings were brought to the surface. At the game, an ORR Hockey player called a player from Wareham the N-Word and, in addition to that, another player called him another derogatory term and allegedly spit on him. These aren’t really old feelings since my emotions having to do with race have been the same for years now. But, now it is like these emotions are out in the open more than ever due to the exposure of the racism in our community - the racism I have been trying to raise awareness about since I was a thirteen-year-old, a seventh grader. And I am now nearly seventeen, a Junior in high school. I am still facing the same adversities as before. But now, it has gone past me and is affecting students who don’t even attend ORR.

Although I wasn’t at the game that night, my feelings are still hurt that someone could have so much hatred, enough to call someone the N-word. But I am not surprised. People keep saying, “but the player doesn’t even go to ORR”, which isn’t the point. Regardless of what school he attends, he still plays for ORR. If this player feels comfortable enough using this racist language, it shows a systematic problem within the culture of the team. This situation is shedding light on something I have faced since I was in kindergarten. I have been called the N-word by a student who attends this school. Probably more times than I am aware of. It is sad to say that I am used to it.

When I was asked to write a piece about the racism I faced at ORR, I was shocked. Usually, my voice is shunned, not heard, so of course I was excited to do this. But I immediately came to a dilemma, where do I even start? How do I approach this? I always receive backlash for speaking my mind so, of course, it is nerve wracking to have such a big platform to speak on the issues I have faced. So I decided to do an open letter to everyone here at Old Rochester Regional High School.

I grew up in the Tri-Town, I have lived in Rochester and Marion my whole life. Growing up as one of the only black girls in the school has been hard. Not to mention that I was related to the majority of the other black students who attended my school. Being a young child, the stuff people said to me would be brushed off. I have been called “black mamba” and I’ve even been told I looked like Barack Obama. I would just laugh it off. I never thought anything of it, and in a way, I just wanted to fit in.

In all honesty, this school system made me want to be white. People don’t understand how diminishing it is to a little black girl’s self-esteem to think, at the end of the day, “I will never be as pretty as the little white girls”. Of course, now I have found my own confidence and have moved past that, but not everyone can do that.

All throughout elementary school, I was just different. Of course, growing up in a Cape Verdean-American household with strong Christian roots will do that to you, but this was on another level. I felt as if I could never fit in. I was called “ghetto” numerous times and that made me change the way I acted, which was far from “ghetto”. I was judged for the things I wore, my hairstyles, etc. This all may seem like little things, but to me, as a kid, it hurt. There I was, just trying to fit in, and there was always that imaginary line that separated me from the rest. Now fast forward to Junior High School which were probably some of the best and worst times of my life. At that time, I was still trying to fit in with the white people at my school. I was so naive and ignorant. I used to allow my friends to say n**ga. Looking back, that was one of my biggest regrets. I was allowing those kids to walk all over my culture.

Towards the end of seventh grade, I had an epiphany. I was done allowing racist comments from teachers and students to slide. I was finally going to do something about it. I wrote a paper about my experiences. I talked about how my teacher once referred to the only two black students in her class as her “slaves”, me being one of them. I mentioned how I was constantly singled out of the things other people did, but the teacher would turn the other way. The list goes on. I gave it to the principal and nothing was done about it. I didn’t hear back from him until I reached out again. That made me feel like he didn’t care.

Again in 8th grade, I heard one of my teachers say to another teacher something along the lines of “you put two colored students next to each other and can’t tell the difference”. At that moment, the other black student and I were shocked. Our parents went to the school about it and the teacher apologized for the inappropriate comment. But why are incidents like this one so common? Around that time, I became more active in the Black Lives Matter movement and expressed myself even more.

One of the most devastating times of my life was in April of 2016. I was at a birthday party with some of my friends (all people who attended ORR) and the white people at the party continued to say n**ga. They kept referring to the red-heads at the party as “giggers”, which I found completely offensive. My cousin and I repeatedly asked them to stop. Of course, they didn’t. So instead of making a huge deal, we texted in our group chat after the party and expressed our discomfort. Of course, they all brushed us off, everyone except one girl was defending the “friend” who had said the offensive things. It got to the point where the girl said “well guess what n*gger with hard R”. I immediately started crying. How could someone I considered one of my best friends say this to me, especially after I expressed how it made me feel? At that point, I told her I couldn’t believe that she would say that. My other friends continued to fiercely defend her. I ended up losing a lot of my friends that night.

My Freshman year at ORR, I was miserable. I hated being there, it was one of the worst years of my life. I had become more and more vocal about social issues. One of my classmates even told me I should leave America if I didn’t agree with every aspect of its culture. That year, people began to see me as “problematic” just because I spoke out against discrimination.

I transferred schools my sophomore year. It was refreshing to be attending a new school without as much drama. But, of course, that didn’t stop ORR students from still coming for me. March 1, 2018, I wrote a tweet which read: “Still trying to figure out why white people are still letting the word n**ga come out of their mouth”. I posted it on my Snapchat story as well. That same ex-friend of mine, who had called me the N-word in the past, took a screenshot and posted it on her “finsta” with the caption “yeah this is probably @ me #sorrynigga”. Although it wasn’t with the hard “R”, I was still beyond angry. This was beyond ignorance, this was just simple and blatant racism. Some people think that “n**ga” isn’t that bad, but it is. The historical and emotional value that is behind that word is what makes it so bad. It took my friend getting exposed on social media for her to cry to me in my messages talking about “she is sorry”. Apologies don’t work after people do this time and time again. These are just a few examples of the racism that I and many other black students at this school face.

I have been patient, hoping that one day the school would change this or at least try to. I have been patient for years and it exhausting, emotionally and mentally. I am tired of fighting alone, I am tired of feeling helpless. I am only 16, I shouldn’t have this weight on my back. I should be worried about my academics and what college I want to go to, not how to respond to the next racist remark someone throws at me. The adults in this school need to step up and push for a change. The black students of ORR need allies. Teachers need to take responsibility and educate themselves and their students about this serious issue. I have been against notifying the school about these incidents because I had brought them to the attention of the staff before but nothing had been done. No student should feel opposed to telling the administration about the discrimination they’re facing. No student should feel like they don’t have a safe space at the school. It is the school's responsibility to make sure students have someone to talk to about this. Teachers need to be more educated on diversity than they are now. However teachers are being trained now is clearly not working. White teachers need to start doing right by us black students.

There needs to be accountability. We can not let this ignorance go on. Going to a school that is associated with racism isn’t a good thing. The school community needs to face reality, racism is real and it is in our school. Discrimination is real and it is in our school. We can’t reach equity if this is still prominent in the school community. Parents, students, and teachers need to be open to learning new things, open to changing their toxic ways. I will no longer let the school’s image be considered more important than black people’s feelings. It is unfair. I am angry, saddened and fed-up. It is time for more people to stand with me so the events that transpired at that game as well as the racist culture at ORR will not continue. Silence is equal to complicity, so speak up and raise awareness. We have a long road ahead of us, but rectifying this problem isn’t impossible.


Sincerely,

Jendell Teixeira

A Pissed Off, Fed-Up, and Emotionally Exhausted Black Student

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