In front of more than 100 people, John Chatman recalled the bullying he endured as a child for having a stutter.
Chatman was one of seven educators and students who took the mic at Chalkbeat’s February story storytelling night. The stories centered around school discipline practices, a topic we recently covered in this special report.
“Growing up in the area I grew up in, it’s hard to deal with that,” said the 18-year-old. “You’re an outcast. … It made me hate school, because I never could enjoy it. I may answer a question and stutter, [and other students would] get to laughing and cracking jokes.”
Kids stopped making fun of him in middle school when Chatman became a star middle school football player in Memphis — but the prestige that came with playing football disappeared when he was injured on the field.
“I took my injuries and replaced them with the streets,” Chatman said. “Throughout my ninth-grade year, I was starting to lose myself. … By 11th grade, I didn’t know who I even was.”
During that period, Chatman said he was kicked out of three high schools and eventually wound up at G.W. Carver College and Career Academy, an alternative school for expelled students, housed in former Carver High School.
“This school changed my life forever,” Chatman said.
To hear more about how Chatman’s life changed, watch the video (or read the excerpt) below.
The storytelling night was hosted by Chalkbeat Tennessee, Spillit, and The Knowledge Tree. The video was filmed by Gillian Wenhold for The Social Exchange, a pay-as-you-can public relations and content creation firm for nonprofits, and businesses owned by women and people of color.
My 11th-grade year was the time I decided I had to change. The change was when I finally got kicked out of school. Well, I’d been kicked out of school but this was the kick-out-of-school that kicked me in my back real hard and said you only have one strike left. If you mess this up, this is it. It’s over with. You’re not going to see the light of day. Due to that, I ended up going to Northeast, and it still didn’t get better. In fact, I’m going to tell y’all the transitions of my schools. It started at ninth grade at Central, couldn’t come back to Central and I had to go to East , got kicked out of East and went to Northeast. Got kicked out of Northeast and now I’m back at Carver.
I’ll tell y’all, this school changed my life forever. I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for that school. It happened like this. There was a guy named Roger. We used to run together during the same time period. …
[During a presentation of past Carver graduates], an image of Roger popped up clear on the screen. It wasn’t up for nothing bad, he was on the road to making a six-figure [salary]. I was like, ‘This was the same person I used to shoot dice with?’… Now he’s living a life and I’m stuck here. I’m still doing the same stuff I’ve been doing and not getting no different result, and that’s called insanity… I took it, and I told myself if he can do it, I know I can.