As an internal advocate for the Indians of Albany High, I must encourage my students with words, thoughts and actions to disprove the naysayers ... always tactfully articulating that we prove lies by merely living the truth and showing critics that we are not who they believe and portray us to be.
We learn from famous comedian/actor of the 20th century W.C. Fields, who once said, "It is not what they call you, but what you answer to" that matters! We must show them that because they don't understand us and make little effort to, they have us sized up all wrong.
Though much of Albany's local community and specifically the local news media downgrade, deject and discredit the students of Albany High on a regular basis, we will not answer to misplaced labels and accusations. My students are not thugs, hoodlums and miscreants, but young people with malleable minds and fragile personalities who cling to hope at our hands, a.k.a. Indians!
It is not coincidental that our mascot is the Indian. The Indians studied in history books were misnamed by a people who misunderstood and exploited them when they supposedly "found" something that clearly belonged to someone else already. They were an established, intelligent and independent people until an immoral, ruthless people invaded their space and forced them to fight for their lives and way of life until the present. Those Indians have a similar story to the AHS Indians, seeing as how the "white flight" of the 1990s stripped Albany High School of many resources, property value and pride, as well as moral and community support, transforming it from the honorable namesake and school of choice of Albany to an abandoned social eyesore in the middle of a destitute neighborhood.
The Indians that remain have been loyal, faithful and hopeful in the true essence of Indians. Such circumstances have forced us to fight for what's ours and we have been conditioned by life with a fighting spirit until the day that we die.
Though we fight against the odds and the unbelievers, sadly, we fight amongst ourselves at times and many wonder why. For those who don't understand why so many angry, hurt and confused young men and women are often found fighting in the cafeteria, classrooms, corridors and courtyard of Albany High ... well, its because we are Indians and that's all we know. Every day I see Indians and Squaws around me that fight through hell and high water just to make it to class on time. These Indians fight past poverty, violence, shame, pain, hopelessness, scarce support, nonexistent love and multitudes more just to make it through the doors at 801 Residence Ave. daily.
A wise woman once said, "You don't know people until you get to know people." With that, I admonish you, that before you cast them down and out of society, label, prejudge, stereotype, criticize, ridicule and stigmatize them, get to know these Indians! You might find that in a city that seems to hate us, wherein the news media downgrades us, we are given the worst, yet expected to give our best and we do just that. They constantly berate and mock us yet expect us to walk with upheld heads and dignity and we agree, because we agree that "It's not what they call us but what we answer to that counts."
We are Indians! Some Creek, some Cherokee, some Choctaw, some Chehaw but we are Indians nonetheless and we must fight daily for our lives. We fight to succeed and some fight to merely stay alive. The rapper T.I. speaks well for many of my students: "Before you go judging us, loving us won't hurt. 'Cause if you are under 25, staying alive is hard work."
My students' lives demand so much of them, yet they have so little to give and at no fault of their own. I once heard an economist say that hungry people don't vote. In essence, he was confirming Abraham Maslowe's hierarchy of needs theory, which says that unless a person's basic physical and emotional needs are met, you can forget trying to formally educate them. To make it even more plain: For the average person, learning math in a classroom takes second priority to securing a hot meal and bath, a quiet place to think and a non-threatening environment for one to rest.
I must quote the rapper T.I. again, as he contends: "Our options are few; it's hell in high school, when you helping with the rent, lights and the gas bill, too." I understand his words and know very well that my students must make hard choices daily. I'm also aware that they do not always make the best decisions, but I am assured that "they only do what they know." They cannot and will not do better unless they know better and they cannot and will not know better unless we show better. I will go to bat for them and I will go to war with them! I know that with the right support system, they can get through anything and to anywhere! There is one more thing I do know: Indians, if the world around you knew you, they too would know that instead of criticizing you, they should be commending you. They owe you a round of applause and outright standing ovation for the strength it takes to be who you are ... Indians!
Victoria Green has been an economics teacher at Albany High School for eight years. She is a spiritual teacher, published author, speaker and entrepreneur educated in the Dougherty County School System, Spelman College and Troy University.