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Global Harmony Through Personal Excellence, Inc. is a non-profit organization in Washington, DC. Its mission is to support the expression and humanity of children. Read more.

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My Mother’s Name is Maria Ortiz.

By: Jelani Ortiz
Winner, 2015
Grades 4 to 6 Division
Kelly Miller Middle School, 6th Grade

My mother’s name is Maria Ortiz. She is very important to me for so many reasons. My mom and I used to spend a lot of time together. We used to play outside but now we can’t. We used to spend a lot of time talking to each other but now we only have moments. My mom works as a janitor and comes home at eleven in the evening every weekday. When she is at work, she is on her feet most of the time to clear tables, clean bathrooms and empty trashcans. Sometimes she gets injured. On two occasions, my mom fell down when she was working. My mom works so hard so that I can have a better future. She always tells me to be focused at school and do my work, so that I can have an opportunity to go to college. She values hard work, and so do I, but I don’t think its fair that I never get to see her on a consistent basis.

I usually see my mom for one hour a day. When I wake-up, she is cleaning the kitchen and making breakfast. By the time I come home from school, she is at work and don’t see her until the next morning. Not seeing my mom affects me because I don’t have a lot of memories of us together. When I see other children spending time with her mom, I feel jealous and sad. Sometimes it seems that other children don’t appreciate the time they spend with their mom. I would love to spend a whole day at home talking to my mom and watching television with her.

One of the qualities that helps me to deal with the situation is that I am very responsible. When my mom is not there, I always do what she wants to me do. I don’t need reminders to do my homework, and I always make sure I do my chores such as clean the bathroom. I don’t add any stress to my mom’s life.

Another quality that helps me to deal with the situation is my thoughtfulness. My mom has severe arthritis; so on the weekends when I see my mom, I put ice packs on her knees where it hurts. She sometimes gets brutal headaches that can be debilitating and has a hard time sleeping because of the pain so I try to help her as much as I can. I also make her coffee to make sure that she is happy.

There isn’t really a way to bring fairness to the situation. It’s not practical for my mom to work less, because we need the money. Sometimes life is not fair.

Being a Foster Kid is Not Fair!

By: Jayden Guidry
First Place Winner, 2015
Grades 4 to 6 Division
School Without Walls at Francis Stevens, 4th Grade
Teacher: Ly Nguyen

I didn’t have a good experience when I lived in foster care so I think that being a foster kid is not fair!

When I was 4, my brothers and I went to live with a foster family because my Mom couldn’t take care of us. The Smiths were nice at first, but they started beating us and they beat me more than my brothers. One time they slapped my face because I didn’t want to eat chicken and blood went everywhere. They told us not to tell. I was scared but one day I told my case worker about the beatings. Me and my brother Jordan moved to another foster family and my brother Joshua went to live with someone else. I have not seen Joshua since that day. We lived with a new foster family and then we were sent back to the foster family that beat us! I was scared to live with them again because I thought they would beat me even more for telling on them. I didn’t want to live there. My plan was to get in lots of trouble so that they would move us, and it worked and they moved us again.

Mr. and Mrs. Morris didn’t beat us, but I thought that they just liked Jordan. When I lived there, my case worker told me that I wouldn’t have any more visits with my Mom. I was angry and frustrated a lot. I would break and throw things and hit and kick people. I wanted to live with my Mom. One day, I was told that Jordan and I couldn’t live together anymore, and I moved again. Jordan stayed with the Morris’s and they adopted him. I’m glad that I can Face-Time Jordan and see him sometimes.

I moved to Momma Jones’s house. She was nice and she listened to me. She helped me talk about my feelings. I lived with her for more than a year before I moved from Texas to DC to live with my adoptive Mom.

Being a foster kid is not fair! I was separated from my birth Mom and brothers. I was beaten in foster care. I had to move around to different foster families. I felt like no one believed in me. I didn’t trust anyone so I had to fight for myself all the time. I can’t change what happened to me in foster care, but I’m getting better at coping with my past and dealing with my anger and frustration and trusting other people, so that’s good. I look forward to the future. I think that kids in foster care should be protected and treated nicer and people should try to understand them.

My sister, Kamsi

By: Zimiego Smith
Second Place Winner, 2014
Grades 4 to 6 Division
Basis DC, 6th grade

My name is Zimiego Smith and I am 11 years old. I am not the smartest nor the most athletic kids in my school. I am not even one of the popular kids in school. I don’t have a lot of friends although I will like to make more friends but because I am very shy, that makes it hard for me to do. Most of kids in my grade don’t even know who I am and the ones who know me think that I am quiet but not realizing that I am shy. I am one of those kids that you will call a “good kid” because I never get in any type of trouble nor would I be considered a problem kid. I am just an ordinary 6th grader.

I have an older sister named Kamsi who is 13 years old and she goes to the same school that I go to. Some kids in our school make fun of her because she is not like the other kids. My sister is different from most kids her age because she have Aspergers syndrome. Aspergers syndrome is often considered a high functioning form of autism. It can lead to difficulty interacting socially, clumsiness and some times repeat behaviors.

My sister Kamsi is the smartest, kindest and most beautiful person that you will ever meet and I know this because I know who she is. I have always been the type of kid that will not speak up when I see something wrong or people doing something wrong because of my fear of speaking up due to my shyness and also never wanting to get in trouble. I have always wanted to protect and I believe that it is my duty as her brother to protect her from all the bullies at school, but I never had the courage to do so. I always remember what my mother always tells us (my sisters and I) to always watch out and take care of each other, although I acted like I didn’t hear her sometimes but I’m always listening.

One day at school, I saw a boy in my sister’s class bullying her in front of a group of kids, although this is not the first time that I have seen or heard someone making fun of her, but for some reason on this day…it was seeing the look on my sister’s face that says that she feels hurt and alone and none of the kids stood up for her or came to her defense. I knew that was my opportunity to do the right thing for once in my life by speaking and stand up for her and also to let everyone know that she has someone who cares and loves her enough to stand up for her. I went up to the boy and told him that his words are both hurtful and mean not only to Kamsi but to everyone who heard him say those words.

I also addressed the group of kids (who stood and watch this boy bullied Kamsi, and did and said nothing) about how they also hurt Kamsi by not speaking up and defending her from the boy that was bullying her. I asked the boy to leave my sister alone and to stop picking on her, although I was afraid of what he might do to me because he was bigger than me but I was willing to do whatever I had to do to protect and stand up for my sister, even if it meant getting into trouble, which I was willing to do.

I don’t know if what I said to the boy will stop him from bullying my sister again but I am glad I was able to stand up to him and say something. I am proud of myself for overcoming my shyness and fear to stand up for what I believe in and for someone who is not able to do so on their own. The best thing that came out from what I did, was when my sister thanked me for standing up for her and that made me feel good and courageous.

Embracing Me

By: Ay Okuleye
Second Place Winner, 2014
Grades 7 to 9 Division
School Without Walls, 9th Grade
Teacher: Tankea Parascandolo

What is courage really? Doing something for someone else? Tackling a task you don’t want to? To me personal courage is realizing a piece of yourself you don’t like and accepting it.

We all have flaws, it can’t be helped. And out of all my flaws the one that I personally wanted to get away from was my hair. I hated my hair because it was different. I’m an African American and my parents are both from Nigeria. And I inherited their tough, nappy, knotted up, and kinky hair. I hated it with a passion. And in my culture your hair is a form of who you are; a part of your identity. So in a way hating my hair was hating myself.

I remember growing up in Chicago and going to a school that was dominantly white. And as the child of a Nigerian woman my mornings consisted of my mom yanking at my hair, quite painfully I must add, and putting it into four braids. And when I got to school I looked at all the other girls and saw their hair, it wasn’t like mine, or mine wasn’t like theirs? The other girls had nice smooth long hair, and I had hair that required an extra 40 minutes in the morning. Why? I remember expressing this to mom and I asked, ‘Why isn’t my hair like all the other girls?” She simply told me, “Because different is beautiful.” But I didn’t feel beautiful, just different.

One day when I was getting my hair done at a salon there was this older black woman. And at this point I thought ALL black people had the same hair. And I figured her hair was exactly like mine, kinky and nappy and a pain in the butt. But after her hair was unwrapped and washed and all I stood amazed at how unlike my hair it was. Hers was everything I wanted mine to be. And I remember the exact thought in my head at the age of 9. Why isn’t my hair like that? This idea of lesser hair is something that prevailed way into my identity as I grew up. By 6th grade my hair was always braided. No one had ever seen me without braids. One day my mom took out my braids and said she couldn’t find anyone to redo them this weekend. So that meant I would have to go to school with my natural hair. And that was one of the scariest things I had ever encountered that year. Throughout the entire day I had my hair hidden under a hoodie. I didn’t want to be anymore different than I already was. But of course people were wondering what’s up with my hoodie. Then eventually someone yanked my hoodie right off and everyone was staring. I immediately broke down into tears. I was so ashamed of my hair that the mere action is displaying it, made me sob. This was my personal obstacle and I conquered it.

Last year in eighth grade my mom had made the decision that I should cut my hair and let it grow naturally. I was devastated! I had finally grown my hair and tamed it to the idea that resided in my head of how my hair was to fit in; how it would assimilate. Then my mother decided that wasn’t the path I would be taking. Walking up to that barber shop, sitting in that chair and getting my hair chopped off was the worst experience of my life. My hair was now about 3 inches and I was so ashamed of what I had become. And then I would have to go to school?! That weekend was the longest weekend I had ever encountered. I didn’t want to go to school. This new me wasn’t what I wanted to be. How would I face my entire school? That was what took me courage. I had to make a decision at that one moment. Keep my head up and be proud (as I could be) or go to school and have a repeat of before? I didn’t really decide to invoke personal courage and go to school with my all natural. I didn’t decide that today would be the day I stopped hating my hair; my identity. I don’t think personal courage starts like that. For me it starts with the realization that I could try and run from the things that make me who I am, but I can never hide forever. I could either accept it now or continue this self-hatred. And then I realized what had to be done. If I accepted myself others could accept me too. And that was one of the most courageous things, personally, I could’ve done.