Many people feel that where you are from will dictate how far you will go. I believe you will go as far as you are willing to push yourself to go. I grew up in a project housing in a city on the outskirts of Boston. These rat and roach infested buildings were my home from the time I was seven until I was about fourteen years old. To see broken bottles and used needles was not rare at the small park near the public housing development where my friends and I would play tag. Broken glass filled the courts so we would sweep what we could away from the courts and pray that you wouldn’t fall on a spot you missed. I remember smoking my first blunt when I was about thirteen years old. We smoked it on the school playground 20 minutes after the last school bell rang with some of the older gang members. A year before that, I remember the same kids made us drink “juice” from a brown bag. That was when I first tried alcohol. Everyone who lived there thought that it was going to be the place they died.
I still remember the look on the face of kids and adults when they asked me where I lived and I said “the Stadium Projects.” It was a combination of distrust and fear. It was almost odd how quickly they would stop talking to you. It felt like a permanent brand.
My family moved out when I was a sophomore in high school. My mother thought it would be better for me and my brother so we moved to another city. I would take a thirty minute train to “hang” with my friends daily. It wasn’t until three of my good friends got arrested and a fourth killed that I decided “I have to do better than this.”
When I was sixteen and still a junior in High School I walked into a recruiter’s office and joined the army in a delayed entrance program. I was trying to get away from my lifestyle by joining the Army but I could not leave it alone. I missed nearly a third of my senior year due to “hanging with the boys” and the life I was living. I only graduated because I had convinced my teachers that I needed to pass to join the military so they let me make up half of a year’s work during the last two weeks of my senior year. After intense “cramming”, and hard work, I graduated and was on my way to Basic Training a month later.
While in Training my mother passed. While back in MA attending my mother’s funeral I could feel myself slipping back into my old ways. However I persevered and made it back to Training. Upon finishing all my training and making it to my permanent duty station I met one of my now best friends James. James mentored me and told me that things didn’t have to be a certain way just because of where you are from or the color of your skin. He taught me many things about life and different perspectives to view it from. I am very grateful to have had a friend as good as James to help get a different perspective on things and to believe in me when I believed no one else did. While I knew I had to get away from my situation, and the military was a good option for me, this was not enough to make a big enough change in my life. It took the strength of a good friend to help me change a way of thinking that was forced in my mind from my upbringing and help me really understand that I was not where I came from. My life has turned a one eighty from what everyone would have ever thought. I own a beautiful home and have a beautiful family. This is why I believe you are not where you come from, only what you choose to become.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.