Wellesley is known as a town that takes its public schools seriously. Residents consistently put their money where their property taxes are by voting in overrides, while dedicated PTO volunteers organize auctions and fairs to cover needs that the budget doesn’t.
In addition to educating and fundraising for the town’s kids who live here full-time, minus summers on the Cape, of course, residents (through private donations unrelated to the town’s taxes) and Wellesley College fund the Wellesley A Better Chance (ABC) program. For 42 years here, the program has been on its mission to provide academically talented and promising young women of color from underserved communities that better chance through an education at Wellesley High School.
Vanessa Martir, a 1993 graduate of Wellesley High School and the ABC program, not to mention Columbia University, took that better chance seriously and as a Huffington Post blogger gives Wellesley a mention in her latest post, Writers of Color Need Something More.
Brace yourselves. It’s not 100% complimentary.
The New York City resident recalls that overall, she found the experience of being an ABC student in Wellesley incredibly difficult. When she hit the halls of WHS, she says, “Everything I was was labeled too loud and too much.” The Latina student was called “Rosie” because actress Rosie Perez starred in the then-current movie Do the Right Thing, and Martir’s classmates wanted to hear her “tawk”, something she refers to as one of countless microaggressions she faced at school. Challenging as it was, Martir remembers her time in town as one of the defining experiences of her life, and that she would recommend the program to women of color, including her own daughter.
English Department teacher Brooks Goddard, who retired in 2000, may have helped save the day. Martir says, “…he handed me Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. I ate that book up in two days and read it again at least five times.” She marks that event as the first time she read a book by an author that looked like her. And it would be great to report that from there on in there was no stopping the girl, but microaggressions at Wellesley turned into macroaggressions elsewhere, and let’s just go ahead and get all Oprah and say that what didn’t kill her made her stronger. And has likely made for rich fodder for her upcoming memoir called Relentless.
Huffington Post blogger is actually just Martir’s sideline. Her day job is at VONA Voices, which runs writing workshops for writers of color. She credits the program, which she attended as a writer before eventually accepting a position there, for helping her find her own writing voice at a time when she was having trouble believing in herself and her stories.
Wellesley served as an incubator for some of those stories as Martir passed through town on her way to a life as a writer, educator, dreamer, and bad-ass, all goals stated explicitly between the lines of ABC’s mission statement, a program that, at its core, is “…committed to fostering the achievement of each student’s academic, personal, and community-oriented goals…”
That’s seems to be pretty much how Martir is living her life, Wellesley-provided warts and all.
Check out Martir’s personal blog here. Like all the best blogs, it runs on a WordPress platform.