"I was born in Colorado and moved here when I was four. I cried and cried when I got here. I called my Mom and said, "How could you do this to me!?' In Colorado, you don't see homeless people, you don't see trash or a lot of poverty. When I got here, it was another planet. I mean, my first memory of this place was the smell. This place stank! But, there were nice things, too. I had never been around so many different kinds of people and things. Everything here was new for me: the bodegas, the metro, the bus, the hair and the style. I still think that the metro is the greatest thing to ever happen to me. I don't ever want to get a driver's license!
"Growing up here, I went to a number of different schools and my Mom eventually decided that I needed more structure and sent me to Holton-Arms, a private school in Bethesda. That place was not for me, though. My mind was too all over the place. I really started to find myself when I came to Duke Ellington School of the Arts.
"You know, I honestly don't have that many friends around my neighborhood in Southeast because it has always been hard for me to fit in. This sounds kind of cliche, but sometimes I don't feel black enough. When I went to Holton-Arms, I was one of the blackest people there. But, when I was in my neighborhood, I still did not feel black enough and I went through a couple of stages of trying to be blacker. You know, dressing like a hood rat or acting differently, but that wasn't me. I realized that I had to worry less about what people thought of me and more about what I think of myself. I still struggle with that because identity is perceived as something given to you by other people. That's not true, though, you have to control your own identity.
"Now, I feel like me. I am a junior studying literary media and communications and feel like this is the right place for me. I still go back-and-forth with my identity, but I am much more comfortable with who I am. This school gave me a pride in who I am and what I do. I appreciate this school so much because it allowed me to be happy. I thank D.C. for helping me find Duke Ellington, which helped me to find myself."
Sierra, right, is pictured with a classmate on top of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts' "soapbox."