School Talk

Student Who Tried to Take His Life: “I’m In A Better Place Now.”

Elijah Robinson photographed at Foundation Academy in Jacksonville, Florida on 9/20/19. Photos by Lance Rothstein

When a young student of color is tormented in school to the point of suicide because of his sexual identity and ultimately finds acceptance at a private school, the silence on the left can be deafening. Rather than rejoice in the victory and resilience of a student who overcomes a living hell, status quo protectors and most progressives rail against the very programs that saved the student’s life. 

There is so much to celebrate in how Elijah’s story ends—but ideology, politics and tribalism muzzle the very people who pretend to care most about children like Elijah. Here we have a 9th grader forced to endure a daily barrage of slurs and yes, even physical violence, simply because of who he is. When the adults in the school fail to put a stop to the constant cruelty, Elijah spirals downward. His grades plummet from Bs to Fs. He recalls feeling “scatterbrained” when it came to academics. But he goes on to say that his grades were the least of his problems—he had sunk into a deep depression that led him to attempt suicide. He did not want to live. 

Elijah’s mother, a nail salon tech, knew that he could not return to the public school to which he was assigned—it would be like sending her son back into the lion’s den. She refused to do it. 

Once Elijah got out of the hospital, his mom decided to take him out of the assigned public school—she was able to secure a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and get him placed in a small private school that welcomed him with open arms. The scholarships are reserved for low-income students and are funded by contributions from corporations. 100,000 students currently attend school on a scholarship, two thirds of whom are Black and Latino.

Elijah’s mom says that without the scholarship, she would not have been able to afford the school. Elijah says that without the scholarship, he would not be alive. 

Union leaders, and most progressives and Democrats would tell Elijah and his mom that they should not have had access to the scholarship that, according to Elijah, saved his life. In fact, they criticize–even vilify—legislators and governors who work to ensure that students like Elijah have access to an escape hatch when their assigned government school is a real life nightmare.

One has to wonder if the loudest naysayers know that, according to the most recent survey from GLSEN, LGBTQ students reported less bullying, harassment and assault due to their sexual orientation—72 percent of LGBTQ students in public district schools compared to 68 percent in private, religious schools. For bullying, harassment and assault based on gender expression, the corresponding rates were 61 percent and 56 percent.

Elijah thinks that the harassment he endured emanated from his affinity for “girls’ jeans and sweaters”—he says he did not “act like the stereotypical guy.” He also didn’t fight back. Bullied kids are always advised to “tell the adults in charge” and that’s what he did. But those adults took no meaningful action. They advised him to “tell the bullies to stop” or “just ignore it.” 

Going to the adults in charge at his school clearly did not work.

Elijah’s story —one that plays out daily across America—has a happy ending. This tall young man of mixed race from who likes to read, play “Call of Duty” and fish with his uncle found peace at private school just fifteen minutes away from his prior school. His academics rebounded, he regained his mental health, and he describes himself as being in a “much better place now.” 

Elijah will graduate from high school this year and he has aspirations of following in his aunt’s footsteps and becoming a nurse. He says he wants to help relieve the pain of others by drawing on his own personal knowledge of what it is to feel pain and what it is to heal. 

The world is better with Elijah in it. He credits the scholarship that allowed him to attend a small private school with saving his life. 

Enough said. 

To hear Elijah in his own words, watch the video below.

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