There are times when each individual feels like they don’t fit the identity of a mainstream student. Will.I.Am’s song “I Have A Dream” from Freedom Writers captures the feeling of marginalized students. Freedom Writers is a book that was later made into a movie that would be the inspiration of this song the story follows of a group of teens from different races who were misfits who were looked down upon for their differences. The song “I Have A Dream” is in the opening and ending of the movie to prompt that all students can be more then what mainstream society expects of them.
There is a verse in the song that says, “Born on the Black list, told I’m below average, A life with no cabbage, that’s no money if you from where I’m from, Funny, I just want some of your sun.” When we go to break this part down when the artist talks about being “born on the black list/ told I’m below average,” this refers to the fact of being told that you can’t do something because you’re not good enough or below average.
Many students here at Harper College who come from a different culture or have different colored skin are influenced by the stereotype that they can’t or are not able to accomplish something due to where they come from. This was the hard task the young people in Freedom Writers were determined to overcome and be more than what is expected of them, just as students here at Harper have something they are trying to accomplish so they can better their lives for themselves or so their families can have a better living.
In the lyric, “a life with no cabbage,” the word cabbage in this song is used for money since like cabbage, money is a light green color. Also cabbage is clean and fresh referring to clean money as in working a job for it and not drug dealing or stealing for it. Having to live a life with no money or any kind of basic living necessities is challenging; lack of money is common among students since we have to buy books and supplies. The transition takes a big toll on the students and even more so for our lower income students and students that come from a race considered a minority.
It makes it harder coming from a life with not much money and told you’re not good enough. Taking a closer look at the book, the movie reveals the theme of the constant belittling of students who don’t fit the dominant culture. In today’s society, we still belittle other cultures and colors, and by doing so cause others to feel like they were born to live within a small box that the media or past stereotypes have put them in.
All we are is what we are told and shown to be, and by doing so, people think if I’m told and shown I am one thing, why be something else? It takes a great effort to try to show people we are more than that; just thinking about trying to overcome these biases causes crippling effects. Not only for the characters in the story, but for people trying to attend college, this debilitating mindset made it harder.
For years, you are told figure out what you want to be, you only have a few years left, it’s going to be a lot of money, better start saving, and do good in school. And if you come from a lower income family you have the added, you need to find a job and once you do you get the “well you have a job and make money, you’re going to start paying your phone, clothes, gas and food.” This adds to the stress and oppression of being a minority – trying to break the social mold, the mold for years people like us are forced to believe. Being told a race is below average, it provides an even greater push to do something better than what your people are told they can do, and a fire that burns inside to make a better example for others that there is not just one view on a race but multiple as long as there is someone willing to make that first step.
Just as the struggling teens in the movie were willing to make and stop being closed off and show compassion to one another instead of hate so they can show how they all can amount to more rather than the standard that’s been set for them, the same goes for college students attending Harper since for the most part when you enroll here you have the hope to be able to make something out of yourselves.
For example, when I first signed up for college I knew it would be hard since no one in my family has a college education. So for a good part I would be going into it blind, not knowing what to expect only knowing what teachers in high school have said, “It will set an example – if I could do it so can you”.
As for the second part of the lyrics, “I just want some of your sun,” refers to wanting someone else’s life privileges or to have it easier like everyone else or to have the same things in life others have. Where the book and movie take place, the majority of students attending the school were minorities that were coming from nothing or didn’t have much at all; because of this, the school didn’t spend as much energy and resources on them since they were seen as lower than others in the school due to what background they had.
When students are treated as lesser, they are more likely to give up and end up disrespecting the books or equipment given to them. Students of color might think that the white students and the teacher do not understand their struggle. As for students at Harper today, it has gotten easier with government assistance, but there are still a large amount of working students because even with the given help, there are still so many life expenses that aren’t covered. This most often makes students think or feel “if only I had more money or my family had a bit more”.
As for me, being a student with financial aid helps but there are still needs of money for other things. It’s hard trying to stay positive all the time; the thought still enters your mind if only I can catch a break. Many students think that if they had it a bit easier things would be better, but it also adds motivation to need to and want to do better. So when we look back to what this story and song is trying to say in the part about being born, the message is that even if I’m held down and pushed, we will still fight for our lives and what we believe in. Will.I.Am’s song “I Have a Dream” from Freedom Writers captures the feeling of marginalized students fighting for what they wanted out of life with what they had, just as many Harper students are doing now.