“The Ballou I Know is a Place Called Home:” Students’ Book Launch

By Cierra Kaler-Jones

“Thank you for the opportunity to share my story,” one of the students graciously shared as she took her turn to read her essay to the group.

On Thursday, May 9, high school students at Ballou High School celebrated the launch of their book, The Ballou We Know, a collection of essays and poems as part of The Ballou Story Project with Shout Mouse Press. Each student had a unique story and used their personal narrative to talk back to and counter negative and deficit conversations about their community in the media. The students expressed pain, frustration, triumph, and joy in stories about overcoming obstacles, strong relationships with teachers and counselors that aided in their success, and how difficulties only fueled their desire to reclaim their narratives.

Nakisha Yates, an English teacher at Ballou, served as the emcee for the event. As she introduced each student to present their work, she thanked them individually for the positive impact they have had on the school community and her work as a teacher. She poured affirmations into each student and highlighted their accomplishments, growth, and strengths. She announced each student’s next steps after graduation, including pursuing higher education at institutions like Lafayette University, Norfolk State University, University of District of Columbia, Morgan State, George Washington University, Old Dominion University, and many more.

Students’ essays and poems took many creative formats. One student chose a self-interview for his story. In the responses he gives in reply to his questions, he said:

I know it’s not just about me. It proves to them [young people in the area] it’s possible.

Another student wrote a letter to her younger cousin about high school, leaving them solid advice as they advance into ninth grade. Her advice included:

Don’t get caught up in what people want you to be. Be the change you want to see in the world.


Others wrote letters to themselves, notes to teachers and counselors, and some directly addressed the media. The work was full of moving statements such as “It is you, young self, that inspired me to be who I am now,” “I believe I can be better than what society believes about me,” and “I’m not average, I’m above it.”

They shared their deep commitments to success and emphasized that they are, in all aspects of their high school career, trying their best. One student wrapped up their collective sentiments:

With society constantly trying to investigate our success, we have to look forward to the future, not the past.

As each student made their way to the front, there was a collective cheer from the audience. A loving warmth of community filled the library. This communal aspect was brought to life by many of the essays and poems the students wrote. One student reflected:

The Ballou I know is a place called home.

Home. This was a common thread throughout many of the essays and poems. Whether home is a place where they feel loved and celebrated or a place where there are people who believe in them and have high expectations of them, home, for many of the students that shared their stories, could be found at school.

Cierra Kaler-Jones is the Education Anew Fellow with Communities for Just Schools Fund and Teaching for Change. She is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland, College Park studying minority and urban education.