A Stolen Flute and the Search for Home

by Kennedy Sapp

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My new flute devastated me. It felt nothing like my first flute -- the one I loved at first sight. I was 10 when I walked into band, sat down and opened up my case to the chrome keys and the gleaming gold mouthpiece. I immediately felt at home with the beauty in my hands. However, my flute symbolized the life that would soon slip away.

At 12, my family moved from Westchester, New York to Oak Park, Illinois. I felt like an outsider and hoped my love for music would connect me to a community of bandmates. On my first day, I opened my locker, reached for my flute and felt nothing.

My flute was not the only thing stolen on that day; I lost trust in the place I wanted to call home. I walked into the lunchroom, devastation still clear on my face, as I tried to find a place to sit. I looked around the lunch room, confusion immediately settled over me. I looked to my right and noticed table after table of black students, then I looked to my left and saw tables of white students .

In Westchester, diversity was not only black and white. I could walk down the hallway and see a girl wearing a hijab as easily as waving at a friend in a yarmulke. In Oak Park, I only had two clear-cut options that I disliked. So I made a third. I walked over to an empty table and sat down.

Suddenly, six girls joined my table. One of them, Briana, was new to Oak Park as well but already knew everyone. "Once you start meeting new people it gets easier. And then once you know them all, you can't help but be yourself."

She became one of my best friends and I tried to follow her advice. Yet feeling at home was still a struggle through middle school and first year of high school. Ironically, I found comfort in an unlikely place -- the Chemistry Club in Tenth Grade. English and history were always my favorite subjects. When my brother suggested I join the Chemistry Club, I thought it wasn't for me. However, my willingness to try something new led me to that morning meeting. I saw kids from my science class, but also girls from my dance team, kids in Model UN, and so many other types of people. Students eagerly showed me how to make the glow-in-the-dark slime.

Growing up, my parents constantly preached of the importance of diversity and I saw the concept in strict terms of race, ethnicity and religion. The Chemistry Club -- mostly white students with a few black students -- would not seem too diverse by that standard. Yet the interests, opinions and passions of everyone in that room were so diverse. In that moment, I began to truly feel at home in Oak Park.

Changing my frame of mind allowed me to meet extraordinary people and hear unique stories of my classmates. Initially I saw Oak Park on the surface as black and white and failed to dig deeper.

I have also formed a lunch table that looks so different from what I saw on my first day in Oak Park. There are black and white students, dancers and athletes, and males and females. When I see new students or others sitting alone, I invite them to our table.

Seven years ago, someone found my old flute in the bathroom and it sits in the guest room of my house, while my newer flute is in my closet. I rarely play either, but they are reminders of how far I have come. In Oak Park, I have learned that one must take initiative to turn a community into a new home. There may be bumps along the way that may become opportunities to produce change. Just take a look at my lunch table.

Kennedy Sapp, a 2015 graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School, is a freshman at Vanderbilt University.