I love South Central, it is my home, and it is where I see my future. I will admit that growing up here is tough, but like one of my medical school classmates once said, we develop “true grit” through our experiences in the hood.
As tradition, every last Friday of the month my mom who worked as a housekeeper would get paid and she would take me to my favorite restaurant: McDonalds! As a four year old in the 1990s, I used to smirk as I carried my little house-shaped Happy Meal. I knew that there was a delicious cheeseburger, fries, and new toy inside.
On a Friday that I will always remember, as we walked back home a tall youngster pulled a handgun on us and stole my mom’s purse. Before leaving, he also took my little house and small coke from my hands. I cried because I never got to see my new toy. My mom also cried; but I did not understand at the time that she was crying about the rent money that was in her purse. And as a single mother, she did not know how we were going to pay for the room that we shared.
As I got older, I learned to be street smart. I lived by the rules of “don’ts.” Don’t get a bald haircut, don’t wear long white t-shirts, don’t sag your pants, and don’t walk around thinking you’re tough. I also created my own strange strategies.
For example when I walked back home from school and bumped into a group of potential gang members I would put my head down and create a fake limp. I reasoned that if they saw me injured they would feel bad for me and not “pocket check” me like I had been numerous times before. Surprisingly, it worked! Though these strategies helped me avoid conflict, they also created negative behaviors and habits that followed me as I grew up. I kept to myself, trusted no one, and kept my head down.
The environment I grew up in influenced me to adopt certain behaviors that allowed me to survive but also prevented me from reaching my highest potential.
There are many smart, driven, talented youth with so much potential in my neighborhood, but unfortunately many are not able to follow their passions because of the environment they grow up in. Had they been raised in a safer community with more resources then more would become lawyers, doctors, engineers, anything! But even though many of us do not “make it”, we carry with us a trait that carries us through, and that is true grit. We are strong people! I have a vision that some day my neighborhood will be safer, united, and acknowledged for positive traits rather than how it is portrayed in the media. I hope that some day our leaders will invest more in communities like South Central, so that everyone can fulfill their dreams.
When medical school gets tough and I feel like giving up, it is this grit that keeps me going.
Categories: Public Space, Memories.