Photo by Nam Hoang on Unsplash

CW: Ableist language

“Somebody has to stand when other people are sitting. Somebody has to speak when other people are quiet.”

Bryan Stevenson

I grew up with what I called a wannabe “white savior complex,” also known as,  “model minority.” My parents were saved by missionaries during the Khmer Rouge. I grew up seeing missionaries as my heroes and decided at the age of18, I would do such. My naïve pride expected me to teach the little Cambodian children English and guide them to Christ. I didn’t realize the injustice I was perpetuating by repeating the message I was taught that “Look at me! God brought me here to bring you salvation and you need to prevent your sins from my teaching.” Halfway through that “mission” trip, I ended up mistaking my homesickness by looking down at the others.

In the end, all I did was provide a cool fact I could say during ice breakers for class and meetings. I was able to tell everyone that I met that I decided to go away from the mainstream route of instead of going to school I was “helping others.” I wanted to be in education and to see myself as someone who saves kids the way our Creator saves. But I was not trying to be part of the community; I made this missionary trip about myself.

I currently work in Special Education in SEL (social-emotional learning). The students there are self-contained and as my co-worker says, “kids with adult problems.” Their brains are still developing and sometimes when things trigger them, they cannot maintain self-control. They curse, hit, run away or cannot contain their anger or anxiety. These emotions are often directed towards me. When you go through the motion of being told “FUCK YOUs” and other words, getting spit on, hit, and so on—sometimes you are the one who is triggered. One time a student decided that since I was not upset with the word “midget,” so they decided to call me a “short bitch.” Despite all the stories I tell others and the responses of, “Why are you okay with it?” (because people do not sign up for emotional and physical abuse from 10-year-olds), I always respond —It’s really not about me. They’re mad about how the world has handed them. I’m not mad at them. I’m mad at what has been handed to them. 

The term pipeline kids is used to describe students who “are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems” (ACLU). This happens when students of color are misdiagnosed with disabilities and live in conditions of poverty, abuse, or neglect. As a result, these students are marginalized. How can I go through life without advocating for them? How can I say, “Let’s save these kids,” without taking action? It is easy to see the problem and talk about it, but it is much harder to do something about it. When it comes to being an advocate for others, it requires a sense of vulnerability to understand others and to see our flaws ourselves.  Justice and healing is an exhausting and vulnerable process. There is always a need for us to check our privilege and for us to understand the spaces that we take. Sometimes we need to understand that we should not take any space at all. The healing process is long and difficult and it can seem hopeless, but through our Creator we can use our relationships to give hope and support to each other. There is no measurement of what we struggle in life we cannot just compare and contrast of our mental, physical and spiritual needs, but what we can be is a community of support for each other. 


Take the time and write down the communities you’re in, whether you are a leader, participant, or observer in a safe space. You are part of the hope and justice in this community.  

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  • Melie (she/her) is a special education assistant where she advocates for racial equity in the Seattle Public School district. She teaches natural history and science of the Pacific Northwest in after school programs. When she is not involved with school and being an extrovert, she’s eating egg Benedict, listening to comedy audiobooks, and sending memes to the PAAC party posts.