I almost committed a felony when I was ten years old.
It all started when I decided to run for Class President in fifth grade.
At ten years old, I felt like I could accomplish anything. I was running up against two white kids, one boy, and one girl, for the same position. For context, I attended an elementary school in Northeast Philadelphia where at least ninety percent of the population was white.
The boy, let’s call him Mike, was charming and well-liked by the kids. He was the one to beat. The girl, let’s call her Rachel, was popular because she was pretty.
Funny how the way we judge people in fifth grade doesn’t change much as we get older.
I needed to find a way to stick out and make people like me. I couldn’t be as charming as Mike or as pretty as Rachel. So my dad helped me come up with another way to convince people to vote for me:
VOTE FOR SUSAN LEE!*
*and I’ll give you free candy.
I wrote this slogan on several large poster boards and plastered them all around the school.
Kids saw the poster, said, “I’ll vote for you. Give me my candy” and stuck out their hands expectantly. Flustered but also feeling indignant, I shot back, “I’ll give it to you after you vote for me.”
A kind teacher saw the posters and gently took me aside. She told me that if I wanted to give out candy as a part of my campaign, I could, but I had to give it out without the expectation that kids would vote for me. That’s when I learned about the word ‘bribery.’
I was absolutely mortified, but I was more scared that I was going to get in trouble (typically ten-year-old behavior). My eyes filled with tears and I immediately threw my dad under the bus, “My dad told me to do it!”
I have to give that teacher a lot of credit. She was a white woman, trying to navigate a conversation about bribery with a ten-year-old girl who is the daughter of a well-meaning immigrant parent.
Through my sniffling, I pointed out that the vote was in a few days and I didn’t have time to make new posters. The teacher suggested that I take the posters home, use white-out to…