The Hard Lessons I Learned from Being Bullied in School

by Princess Gabbara

The final week I spent in my childhood home was surreal to say the least. I knew we were moving soon, but for an eight year old going on nine, seeing all my toys piled up in the corner of the room that my younger sister and I shared made it official.

We were moving to a better neighborhood and a bigger house, but that didn’t matter to me. Our small, 900-square-feet home in Oak Park, Michigan was (and still is) the symbol of my childhood. It’s where I learned to walk, talk and ride my bike. How could my parents expect us to leave and start over someplace else? But of course, there was no changing their minds.

On the big day, my sister and I spent the last couple of minutes sitting in the back of a red pickup truck that our parents borrowed for the move, watching as they carried out the last few boxes. I remember flipping through my Britney Spears: Backstage Pass book -- it was mid-July of 2000 and teen pop was inescapable -- to pass the time. Before driving away, I caught one last glimpse of our beloved home since I didn’t know if and when I’d be able to see it again.

Leaving an ethnically diverse neighborhood, where I was used to seeing people who looked like me and entering a nearly all-White community was a tough transition. You could count the number of minority students at our school on one hand -- two at the most. There were so few of us that nearly everyone mistook my sister and I for another pair of biracial sisters for weeks before realizing the difference.

There was one particular morning when my dad decided to drive my sister and I to the bus stop because it was freezing outside and he didn’t want us to walk. As soon as I stepped out of the car, a red-haired, freckle-faced boy yelled, “Hey, it’s that ugly girl,” causing an entire crowd of about 14 kids to erupt into laughter. Now I’m far from ugly, but again, I was one of the few people of color at that school, which made me different and to him, different meant ugly. Looking back, I can finally laugh about the situation, but it was downright humiliating and hurtful at the time.

Life at our new school eventually became easier. And while I made a few friends here and there, I never felt as though I really clicked with anyone.

I love my parents, but for a while, I blamed them for the struggles I faced being the new kid in school. I didn’t understand why we had to leave a place that meant so much to all of us. Sure, we didn’t have a lot of money, but we were happy -- everything was fine, or so I thought. Now that I'm older, I understand how great of a decision that was.

Oak Park can be a little rough around the edges. It doesn’t get the bad rap that Detroit does, but it has its issues. There wasn’t anything in particular that my parents were trying to protect my sister and I from. Besides wanting us to attend a school district, where we would have access to a quality education, I would say the move was more economically motivated than anything.

I believe we’re all products of our environments in some way, shape or form. And although I know for a fact that my parents would've done absolutely everything in their power to keep me on the straight and narrow, we all know how hardheaded teenagers can be at times. There’s no doubt in my mind that if we had stayed in Oak Park, I still would’ve attended and graduated from college, but there would’ve been a lot more distractions.

One thing’s for sure: No matter how successful I become, or how much money I make, Oak Park will forever hold a special place in my heart. Whenever we’re in the area, my family and I make it a point to drive past the house and reminisce about old times together. We have some beautiful memories from our time spent in that tiny house, but I’ve also reached the point where I no longer yearn for those days like I used to.

It wasn’t until five years ago that I found the closure I needed. I was spending a lot of time wondering what happened to some of the kids I grew up with, particularly *Kelly because we were childhood besties. One afternoon when my family and I were on our way back from spending a day in Detroit, which is about 20 minutes away from Oak Park, we spontaneously decided to stop by Kelly’s home to see if she still lived there. And much to our surprise, she still resided in Oak Park after all those years. I was so happy to see her. We laughed, hugged and caught up on old times.

Our conversation was brief and we haven’t seen each other since, but I felt as though by talking with her, I could finally close that chapter of my life and begin moving forward. At this point in my life, I’m content with where I am and as cliché as it sounds, I know everything happens for a reason.

Change is inevitable, healthy and absolutely necessary if we want to grow, yet some of us run and hide from it the first chance we get. I was one of those people. As Eckhart Tolle says, “Some changes look negative on the surface, but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” I get that now. And I welcome and embrace whatever changes -- big and small -- await me in the future. Head on.

*Name has been changed.

Princess Gabbara is a 20-something Michigan-based journalist/freelance writer. As a graduate of Eastern Michigan University, she’s contributed to a host of publications, including,,, and Sesi Magazine. You can read more of her work on her blog: She also tweets at @PrincessGabbara.

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