Winter 2013: "Seeing the Unseen" High School Winner Nizhone Hickman

Read Nizhone's essay about his challenge of opening up to strangers and his commitment to keep trying.
Eyes by Ahmed Sinan

Photo by Ahmed Sinan

Nizhone Hickman, a student of  Lisa Watson at Sonoran Science Academy in Tucson, Arizona, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, "What Can Change When We Learn to See Each Other," by Akaya Windwood, a story about what it might feel like to live in a world where people don't acknowledge your existence. He is our high school winner for the Winter 2013 writing competition.

Writing prompt: “Imagine you accept Akaya Windwood's invitation to intentionally notice people you would normally ignore. Who would you notice? What would change for you and for that person?



Taking That Extra Step


Akaya Windwood’s YES! Magazine article, “What Can Change When We Learn to See Each Other,” got me thinking about how I see people. To be honest, I frequently find myself attempting to look away from many types of people—although I don’t intend to be mean. If I don’t acknowledge someone, it is either to save both of us from being uncomfortable or it’s for my own personal safety. Also, I never intentionally ignore someone’s presence, but occasionally I’m oblivious because I haven’t really seen them yet.


Once when my mom and I drove out of the Albertsons parking lot, there was a homeless person outside a nearby Circle K. He was holding a sign that said, “Money for food, anything helps,” and we decided to give him nearly half of the food we bought. My mom was reluctant at first, but I finally convinced her to hand over some of our groceries. I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive that homeless man for what he did after that.


As we were driving off, I looked back at the homeless man. He walked to the garbage can and threw the food away. Then, he continued to ask for money from people who walked by him; I assume this was so he could purchase cigarettes or beer at the Circle K.


After that eye-opening experience, I don’t make visual contact with homeless people very often because I hate to give them the false hope that I’ll offer them something. Still, I will occasionally give a couple of bucks to a homeless person only if they are outside a supermarket or a place where you can’t buy cigarettes, alcohol, or anything else like that.


In addition to homeless people, I will pretend not to notice people who I don’t feel safe around—like people who look like they’re in a gang. I remember when my friend Alex and I were playing video games at Peter Piper Pizza. We saw a person who certainly seemed like he was part of a gang; he was wearing a tank top and had lots of tattoos on his arms, including some teardrop tattoos on his face under his eyes. I didn’t feel safe. Alex and I still stayed at the Peter Piper because we were with our friends and we felt safer with them than by ourselves. Now that I think about it, it wouldn’t have been bad to say hi to him because he probably was just there with his family and friends like my friends and I were.


Another incident when I did not feel safe was when my brother, father, and I were on our way home and stopped by Sam’s Club to get gas. As we started to fill the tank, a car pulled up to the pump next to us. When a man opened the car door I could see a pistol on his hip; it looked like a semi-automatic gun. After that first glance, I tried my best to look in the other direction. At first I was afraid because I knew that guns are used for only one thing, and that is for harming other people. The fact that he wasn’t dressed as a cop did not help with my fear.


Before Akaya Windwood’s invitation, I honestly hadn’t thought about what might happen if I noticed everyone that I wouldn’t normally acknowledge. When I thought about everyone, I was thinking more about the people who might take advantage of me or who struck me as a potentially dangerous. That seemed like an unreasonable request. I wasn’t thinking of people who would be ignored for other reasons—someone like a handicapped person or kids at school who aren’t popular.


If I were to challenge myself, in most cases, I would smile at people—even at the people I might not normally acknowledge at all. I know that people might take certain greetings differently, but I imagine that a smile could only be viewed as a good thing. With others whom I would feel more comfortable around, I would attempt to do more and say “hi.” I might even try to start a conversation with people I know. I would prefer not to start talking with people I don’t know because they might feel like I’m invading their personal space.


After taking that extra step to acknowledge people, I think I would feel happier for having made someone else happier. When people are noticed, they feel valued—and that makes me happy. I know that you can’t be too open to every person because not all people have good intentions. It is not clear which people can be trusted (or not), and that’s why it’s a person’s personal decision to decide whom they acknowledge. If everyone were able to acknowledge each other, the world would be a far better place, perhaps without war and violence, and people as a whole would be happy and open with each other. Maybe this is a dream, but we have to try—one day, one person at a time.

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