I grew up in an impoverished neighborhood on the notorious east side of the City of Detroit. My experiences were typical to many urban youth in that I saw the social ails of an impoverished community as a way of life. However, there were certain experiences in my life that helped me to see beyond the trials before me; the most prevalent being my mother’s ability to gracefully maneuver through hardship. Growing up, my mom was a single parent who worked as a seamstress during the day, and at Burger King at night. Unfortunately the nature of my mother’s employment never kept enough food on the table, and the termination of housing and utilities were always lingering, but in retrospect the importance of working hard through obstacles is apparent.
When I began my undergraduate education, living outside of my norms made me more conscious of the stark differences of life within and beyond the ghetto. Of those who did not live in the ghetto – I became envious, resentful and bitter. Rooted in feelings of inadequacy, impending failure, and the sense that I didn’t belong, while longing to belong. But I never could convince myself that I was one of them, so I resolved to my identity as a child of the ghetto. But I embraced the difference as one who had overcome many more of life’s hardships than my peers.
One day, as I sat in an inter-group dialogue class, students were challenged to discuss the place and experiences from which they are rooted. Everyone around the table had typical stories of growing up in American suburbia, but my story was gravely different. I considered making up a story to mirror theirs, but decided against it. As I shared my experiences of hardship, I noticed the faces of my peers change from viewing me as an equal to taking pity upon me. One student even proclaimed that she never knew that people were really poor in the way that I had described. At first I was angry, but later I realized the importance of informing others of the strength it takes to overcome obstacles and that pity was not warranted. From that day forward I decided to dedicate myself to social equity and awareness.
Many years later after completing my education, I chose to pursue a career in urban planning. Contrarily, I do not practice in the inner city, but in a wealthy, predominantly white suburb 45 minutes north of Detroit. Everyday, I try to bring to a homogeneous staff and community a different perspective rooted in diversity tolerance, equity, and social awareness. Sometimes I feel the old feelings of insufficiency creep in, but I do my best to break down barriers of communication within the community and the workplace by offering my understanding of the common human bond characteristic of both sides of the socio-economic coin. For this ability, I credit my early hard-ships that have shaped me and the work ethic that my mother inadvertently taught.
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