Inner-city student project tells Trump they don’t live in ‘urban hell’

Jan 13, 2017

Some inner-city Buffalo Public school students are participating in a brand new pilot project to share their personal stories with the community. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley visited The International Preparatory School on the city's west side to learn about how students will work to create interactive digital maps.   

We’re taking you inside a 9th grade English class at International Prep. Students said they want teach us about life in their communities.

9th grade English class at International Prep.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“I want them to hear good stories about our city, not the bad ones,” declared Kayla Jackson.  She lives on the east side. The students’ personal narratives are actually inspired by remarks made by President Elect Donald Trump in which he stated "African-Americans and Hispanics are living in hell".

“I think Donald Trump is judging our cities based on what he sees and what he hears as far as violence. They don’t ever say nothing like good about us. Even if we did something good you won’t hear about it, but if it was something bad you would hear about it,” Jackson explained.

Teacher Stephen Goss tells us his 9th grade class was fueled the Trump remark.  

Teacher Stephen Goss tells us his 9th grade class was fueled the Trump remark.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“A lot of my classes just brought it up kind of naturally and were talking about it,” said Goss. 

Goss is also an adjunct professor at UB.

“And this particular class decided that it wasn’t true, first of all. They had a conversation – someone said, ‘People think my neighborhood’s awful, but there’s all these great things going on, actually.’ Students talk passionately about where they live and the good things that are happening there,” Goss noted.

Teacher Stephen Goss tells us his 9th grade class was fueled the Trump remark.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Goss and his colleague, Ryan Rish, an Assistant professor at UB's Graduate School of Education are leading this student pilot-project.

“Some of the components involved students going out into the communities with mobile devices and recording stories about their communities,” Rish said.

The teachers are using a small grant to help fund the project, but are also fundraising on www.experiment.com to create digital interactive billboards that will feature a mural of a map.

White board inside the classroom shows some of the outline of the student project.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“We’re hoping to do this project sometime early spring, so we will assembly giant billboards in the classroom on individual pieces of board that will be puzzle-pieced together somewhere in the city. It will be a map of the city and in the map there’ll be imbedded QR codes, so people that are walking by can take their phones, zap the code and then listen to a student telling their story about that location in the city,” Goss explained.

“It’s good and bad in neighborhoods, but some people only see the bad, so we are hoping they can see the good,” said freshman Darjahnae Mike.

Mike started out her life on the west side until about the age of 11 her family moved to the east side. For some students, it is a journey each morning to school. They hop on three public buses to arrive.

“It’s not easy, especially when you are trying to graduate, your trying to reach your goals. It’s harder because you want to keep your grades up. You want to make sure your grades are as high as can be,” Mike remarked.   

Students in the 9th grade English class at International Prep working on the project.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Freshman James Love lives on the east side.

“It’s not just everybody in the community – some people do good, some people do bad, some people just grow up doing bad,” Love described.

Love admits he knows there is violence, but doesn't want that to define his neighborhood.

“It’s just a certain type of people. It’s not the neighborhoods. It’s the people that do the stuff, so it’s not the neighborhoods fault, it’s whoever does it,” replied Love.

Other students in the classroom declined to speak us, teacher Goss describes some difficult stories they will be sharing for this project that do revolve around violence.

“There’s one particular student that has had a lot of academic issues and behavioral issues in my class and a lot of other classes. But a lot of his stories are about loss and, in particular, losing friends to violence and gang violence, and not only losing friends, but then his reaction to it, how he has felt and then, the fact that because of what he saw, he wants to change himself,” Goss said. 

Students in the 9th grade English class at International Prep working on the project.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

9th grader Bobbie Oliver also lives on the east side. She told us people are dying from violence, but she described living in a quiet neighborhood.

“Well it’s not how people think it is. For me, I mean, where I live at its quiet – it’s a lot of older people over there, so I don’t really see anything bad like how people stay – you know I’m still alive!” responded Oliver.  

Another 9th grader, Aaliyah Mercado, lives in Riverside.

“I can’t say that I’m scared to walk down the streets or I’m scared to walk into a building or walk into a store alone or something – I feel safe,” said Mercado.

Mercado said Trump's perspective of her urban life is wrong.

Students in the 9th grade English class at International Prep working on the project.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“Change our different perspectives on how people look on us, like how Donald Trump looks on our communities, like if we’re like ghetto and as  we’re like murderers and just like bad people – I want it to be known we’re not – we’re not actually as they’re making it seem and how they’re making us look. It’s not like that. We actually are good people and we do good work and we are smart and we’re trying to make it to the top,” Mercado stated.  

Students attempting to create a unique 'talk-back' to describing their lives urban neighborhoods.