When it comes to education issues, adults often do the talking. But for one evening, New York City students led a conversation on race, poverty, and immigration status — and the impact those have on their own schools.

A new group called Teens Take Charge recently invited high school students from across the city to read their open letters about what it’s like to learn in a segregated school system. The group is working with the creators of a new podcast called The Bell, to share their stories. For now, here’s one of the letters, edited for length, presented at the “To Whom it Should Concern” open-mic event.

Haby Sondo, age 18, senior at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics

I am a product of the South Bronx, the product of a middle school across the street from the 169th Street projects.

I walked through metal detectors every day before I got into school, and inadvertently normalized the idea of getting shot or stabbed on my way there.

After all, Mohamadou was cornered with a knife and forced to give up his winter coat in exchange for his life.

Sebastian, Landry and Moses were beaten up at parks after school.

Ibn went to prison.

My little sister, Madina, and her friends saw their classmate’s lifeless body on the concrete outside of her school.

I was the 12-year-old girl who knew she had to get out of her neighborhood, the girl who put an unwavering faith in the high school directory, which was supposed to serve as my escape from of the dangers I faced in middle school, the guide which was to assure my entrance into a borough where my middle school fears could disappear.

The guide failed me.

I was wrong.

I became a victim to the same environment, but with a different name.

My reality is gym lockers with brown rust.

My reality is the suffocating phenomenon of poverty present on a daily basis.

I often hear the voices of authoritative figures in my head screaming, “The only escape from your environment is an education. Don’t take it for granted!” But how can I, how can my brothers and sisters of the South Bronx, “beat the odds” if our education system is broken?