Solutions Not Suspensions

by Alpha Diallo

The Liberation Program’s Speak Out had youth calling for an end to suspensions and demanding more mental health resources for NYC schools.

It was at the Brotherhood-Sister Sol where I got to reflect on the time I was suspended. As part of the Liberation Program, I work with other New York City youth to make change in my community. As youth activists and organizers we reflect on our experiences in our neighborhoods and schools. Two summers ago, New York State Senator Robert Jackson visited our building in Harlem. We learned that he sponsored the Solutions Not Suspension Bill, which looks for other ways to handle students misbehaving in schools. It turns out that it’s mostly Black and Latinx youth being suspended for normal teenage behavior. Learning about this bill and talking about my suspension with my facilitators and other youth members helped me understand what happened.

I was 14 years old and in the 9th grade when I was suspended because of a text message. One school day I wasvibing to “United in Grief” by Kendrick Lamar during my advisory class. Suddenly, my advisor pulled me out of the classroom and walked me to the fifth floor. We walked the hallway past the stinky bathroom. I made sure my steps matched the same color tiles. My advisor led me into the principal’s office. He closed the door and said the principal was on her way. My advisor walked out of the office when the principal entered.

“Give me your phone,” said the principal.

“OK,” I said and asked, “Am I in trouble?”

“Why would you ask that question?” said the principal.

“I’ve seen enough movies to know when you get pulled into the principal’s office it’s because you’re in trouble,” I said.

The principal showed me a printout of my text messages under it. She asked, “Is that your number?” The text said, “shoot my teacher …”

She held her cell in one hand and my cell started to ring. “Your mom will be coming in.”

My assistant principal walked in with tears in her eyes talking about how hard her job is and how this joke I texted made her job so much harder.  

“I won’t do it again,” I said. 

“There will be punishment,” said the principal.

“That’s fair,” I said.

Later that day my mother, father and sister came to the school. My father was disappointed with me. I was disappointed in myself. My sister was quiet the whole time. I could tell she was trying not to laugh. Meanwhile, I stared at the peeling paint on the ceiling while my family read the joke I texted. A piece of paint fell on my head. I wiped it off.

While the adults talked about my joke, my mind floated, waiting to come back down to earth. And then I heard the word: SUSPENSION. My body dropped down to earth so fast my heart bounced in my chest. I wanted to hold it still. I heard an adult voice outside the room ask, “Is that Alpha?”

It was just a text. It was just a joke. I asked myself, which one of my friends in the group chat told on me? Is this person even my friend? Weren’t we all friends making jokes about our teacher? Why was I the only one targeted out of everyone? I imagined interrupting the adults’ conversation about my joke and asking this question aloud, but didn’t want to risk having five more people in my position.

As time passed my sister’s face looked sad like when fruits go bad. My mother talked less and less until she said nothing. 

I finally spoke up and asked, “Is suspension really the answer?”

My dad said, “Silence.”

I did as he said. I began floating back up in space as the adults talked and noticed another piece of paint from the ceiling on my pants.

In the end, it turns out the teacher I texted the joke about didn’t know the school decided to suspend me. I ended up with COVID while suspended, meaning  I would’ve missed school days anyway. Ironic, am I right? My parents were no longer mad at me because they were afraid I would die from COVID. They didn’t know enough about the virus then. While I was sick at home I thought to myself, is being sick my actual punishment? The pain in my throat was so bad I could barely breathe. There were times when I would wake up from the sound of me gasping for air. I wondered if my punishment for the text was my illness. I wasn’t sure what was the point of my suspension.

Unfortunately, the Solutions Not Suspension bill still has not passed, but it doesn’t mean that it won’t be in the future. Until the bill is passed young people will keep missing days of school without understanding why. If you agree with me that suspensions are not the answer to misbehavior please find your representative at and tell them our youth needs solutions not suspensions.

Alpha Diallo is a New York City High School Student and part of The Brotherhood-Sister Sol, a non-profit organization in Harlem that has served Black and Latinx youth for over 25 years. Diallo is a member of the organization’s The Liberation Program, a group of youth activists and organizers working to get the City Council to invest in mental health wellness centers in every secondary school campus.

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