One of my favorite outfits in fourth grade was a bright purple shirt with dark purple jeans. When classmates saw me, they would giggle and ask why I was dressed “like that”. Though I loved my clothes, I always felt embarrassed walking into school. My mother would tell me that I “shouldn’t wear things like that” if I wanted to fit in. I knew she was trying to help, but I felt that even if I did dress like the other boys, I would still be rejected. I was aware that my clothes weren’t the problem: it was that I was black, that my mannerisms were too feminine, that my voice wasn’t deep enough. The list of things about me classmates perceived as strange was long. 

Desperate to fit in, I joined a mostly white, mean-spirited friend group in middle school that made fun of a girl named Alexis. I was so happy to have friends that I ignored their comments. But when Camille told Alexis she was no longer allowed to sit with us because she was too “ghetto,” I understood that we teased her not because of anything as simple as her bad breath, but because she was black and because she lived on the other side of town. Alexis had a list as long as mine. I stood up, looked Camille in the eyes and said “You’re a bully.” I believe this to be the moment I became an activist. I knew all too well how it felt to be made a stranger in my own community.

The next day, Camille (who, regrettably, I’d told I was gay) outed me. For the rest of the year, people mocked me in “gay voices,” and whispered behind my back. At the end of the year, I left that school, despite everything, still proud to wear my thick-framed glasses and crop-tops that I’d cut myself.

At my new school, I was drawn toward clubs like TRIBE-ONYX, the black activism club, and Spectrum, our Gay-Straight Alliance. I even attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, where I finally found a community of shared experience. The discussions there were truly cathartic, and I decided to bring them to my school. I wanted to create not just a black group, which is by nature exclusionary, but a community of diverse students that would both support its members and better our broader community. Thus, People of Color Club (POCC) was born. 

As founder, I organized an assembly on microaggressions where I and other members shared our experiences. Mine was that various white teachers had neglected to learn my name and, instead, have called me that of another black student. After the presentation, many teachers and students sought me out to share the impact of the assembly. I felt excited knowing that I was already getting the community talking. POCC is not only a safe space for students of color, but also a group dedicated to community involvement. We have sorted and packaged hundreds of boxes at local food pantries and are currently working on establishing relationships with local homeless women’s shelters

I believe the constant bullying I dealt with growing up was necessary for me to develop the empathy that activism requires. Despite everything, I never attempted to hide myself or change. I took refuge in my favorite works of literature, the fearless self-expression helping me to grow a thick skin. Books like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and On the Road planted in me the knowledge that freedom is out there, and that unabashed self-love and resilience are the roadmap. 

As both a writer and an activist, I want to do for others what Maya Angelou did for me. I want the lonely queer kid who can’t keep a friend to pick up my book and say, “He lives freely and without fear of judgement; perhaps there is hope for me.”

– – – 

Ethan’s Analysis:

Here’s a simple outline of the structure this essay uses:

  1. Challenges I’ve faced and their impact on me

  2. What I’ve done about it

  3. What I’ve learned through this experience

This essay was also written after completing the Feelings and Needs Exercise and follows the elements of Narrative Structure:

  • Status Quo

  • Inciting Incident

  • Raising of the Stakes

  • Turning Point

  • New Status Quo

While this essay possesses the four qualities I’ve named (Core values, insight, vulnerability, craft), here’s a quick analysis of how the author uses these elements: 

  • Status Quo: The author is ostracized by his mother and peers.

  • Inciting Incident: He stands up to a bully.

  • Raising of the Stakes: The next day he’s outted at school by one of the bullies. As a result, he endures more bullying. Still, he continues to proudly wear the clothes he wants to wear.

  • Turning Point: He switches schools and joins clubs like TRIBE-ONYX, the black activism club, and Spectrum, the Gay-Straight Alliance. He also attends the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, where, he writes, “I finally found a community of shared experience.” 

  • Denouement (i.e. what happens next–useful for showing who you’ve become): He forms POCC (People of Color Club), which is not only a safe space for students of color, but also a group dedicated to community involvement. He realizes that “the constant bullying I dealt with growing up was necessary for me to develop the empathy that activism requires. Despite everything, I never attempted to hide myself or change. I took refuge in my favorite works of literature, the fearless self-expression helping me to grow a thick skin. Books like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and On the Road planted in me the knowledge that freedom is out there, and that unabashed self-love and resilience are the roadmap.” 

  • New Status Quo: In the end, he writes, “I want the lonely queer kid who can’t keep a friend to pick up my book and say, “He lives freely and without fear of judgement; perhaps there is hope for me.”

The essays below use either the Montage or Narrative Structure, and all pass the Great College Essay Test. Click any of those links for a step-by-step guide.

And enjoy reading the rest of these wonderful pieces.

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