by Ava Slocum, age 15
On the last day of fourth grade, Ally’s teacher gave each of them a blank sheet of paper. “Write your name at the top and pass it to the person to your right. For each paper you get, write something nice about the person, how they’ve helped you this year, or write a unique wish for their summer break.”
The nine-year-olds grumbled at having to do work on this day normally reserved for movies and pizza parties, but they gritted their teeth and wrote their messages, trying not to stare at the clock. After all, this would be the last assignment they would ever have to do in Mr. Kirby’s class. Finally, Ally got her paper back, and, after the bell rang and shouts of joy from no-longer fourth-graders filled the air, she read her classmates’ words on her last walk home from school of the year. Her best friend Lucie had written, “I hope you have a magical summer and keep feeling as awesome as you are. See you later, love bug, XOXO!!!!!” Lucie’s twin brother Kyle wrote, “Good thing I don’t have to listen to you and Lucie squeal over One Direction anymore, because another day and I would have had to borrow some of Mr. Kirby’s duct tape. Have a fun summer, Al.” But it was another boy, Liam, who wrote the note that changed Ally forever.
“You were nice to me,” it said. That was all he wrote. But it was enough to make nine-year-old Ally tear up and clutch the paper to her chest. For Liam was the boy who had ADHD, and dyslexia, and probably a dozen things besides. Liam was the boy who sat in the back of the class in fear that Mr. Kirby would call on him and make him give an answer of which he hadn’t the slightest idea. And Liam was the boy who, when he tripped over a backpack and landed sprawled over Clara’s desk, she told him that she was going to crush his puny head. Ally tried to visit him when she saw him sitting alone at lunch, and he would smile shyly and tell her about his robots and his seventeen pets. And now, to him, the thing about her that had been special, the thing about her that had been unusual, was that she was nice to him, sweet Liam. When she got home and her mom asked her what was wrong, she couldn’t answer. She could only stare out the window and watch the summer pinwheels spin in the breeze.
The next year, the bullying got so bad that Liam left the school and wasn’t heard from again.
Eleventh-grade Lucie stepped out the high school doors at the end of school before winter break. Now, seven years later, her hair was pink and she had gotten a perfect 1600 on the SAT. Soon after, sixteen-year-old Ally followed her out and ran to catch up. “What are you doing for the next two weeks?” Lucie inquired, starting to cross the street. “Oh, probably still volunteering at the elementary school…” Ally knitted her brow. “What are those kids doing over there?” What they were doing was standing around one hunched-shouldered girl, blocking her way. Their mouths moved to form words that darted across the street like arrows and stung Ally’s cheeks and eyes. They pushed the girl over, and something in Ally broke.
“Hey,” she shouted, running down the crosswalk, waving her arms as if to shoo a crowd of flies. “Hey, stop it!” The girl looked up gratefully and scurried away, but the other kids stayed where they were and folded their arms, looking rather unimpressed. “Forget it, lady,” one beanie-clad boy advised her. “We were just having fun. Plus no one cares about you and your special activism.”
That night, as she was going to sleep, Ally stared up at the ceiling. Possibilities were painting themselves before her in the dark.
Flyers littered the halls when the high school came back from break. “Is this all you, Ally?” Kyle asked her at lunch, gesturing to the posters taped around the cafeteria. She nodded. “The elementary school principal said that if I can get more than a thousand people, they’ll make it a yearly event. Now I guess I have to work on advertising.”
KINDNESS FAIR! @ James & Johnnie Clark Elementary
Come write cards, make chalk drawings, and talk with us about the power of caring.
9:00 to 5:00 on Saturday.
“I don’t know if anyone will come,” Ally admitted to her mom on Friday night. “But if they do, well, I hope it helps.” People did come. They came from the elementary school, the middle and the high schools, and from around the town, where Ally had managed to pin a few flyers. She watched it all unfold–the volunteers helping people draw hearts on the sidewalk, her friends writing cards for the children’s hospital–with a rush of pride at what she had created. But as the day went on, a sinking feeling arrived. How much was it really doing?
A boy who seemed somehow familiar came up to her. “You’re the girl, right? I just wanted to thank you for organizing this whole thing. My sister was getting bullied so much that she wanted to leave the school, but today a lot of kids apologized for how they’ve treated her, and she thinks she might want to stay. Thank you! I wish someone had done this when I was in fourth grade.”
Just then, Principal Hernandez came running up. “Ally, you’ve done it! So many people came and donated that we can do this every year from now on!”
The boy said, “Congratulations!… Wait. Is your name Ally?”
“Well,” Lucie teased, as she, Ally, Kyle, and Liam went to get burgers when the fair was all over. “The kids are kind, and they have you to thank.”
“No, it was all Liam,” Ally said, and they laughed.
We’re very pleased to announce the results of our special Teen Zine Writing Contest! The theme was TEEN ADVOCACY. We received some amazing submissions, and we have here our top three winners. Thank you very much to everyone who participated!