Reading and Writing Our Way Forward
I live in the Dyckman Projects in uptown New York City. While I’ve come to call this place home, it’s not the most nurturing environment for a young man to grow up in. When you add a pandemic to this environment, well then, it’s just all bad. You have to always be on alert and it’s hard to relax. My unit is right next to the stairway. At night, I’m often woken up by loud noises. The projects are setup so that you are always on guard and this is tiresome. The smell of marijuana is constant and sticks to the wall like paint. With COVID-19, I’ve had to find ways to escape mentally just to give myself a break from it all. Even when I have opportunities to leave, my parents often say it’s too dangerous to be out. My parents are really overprotective which means that we often argue about the smallest things like me leaving the house to buy food. At the end of the day, though, I know that they are doing the best they can with what they got.
Even though COVID-19 has really changed my life, I can appreciate the time I’ve had to focus on what’s next for me. I want to create a better path for my family. I want to disprove stereotypes about people who look like me and grow up in the projects. I want to prove to myself that I have what it takes to take care of my family no matter what obstacles I have to overcome. When I focus on these goals, I often recall my favorite book from English class with Mr. Garcia. In the poem “The Rose that Grew from Concrete,” Tupac Shakur writes “funny, it seems, but by keeping its dreams, it learned how to breathe.” To me, this metaphor speaks to how something beautiful can come from a tough environment like concrete. In order for this to happen, though. you have to believe in yourself and ignore the haters. Also, you must never take the easy way out.
To be honest, sometimes I see other guys in my neighborhood who have all the clothes and cars and I get angry about how unfair it is. Even with temptations and the negative stereotypes, I’m determined to hold on to my dream of finishing college and becoming a cop. Though cops are often in the news for bad things these days, I’ve had the opportunity to meet NYPD officers like Mr. Edward Reyes who looks out for people in the community. Officers like Mr. Reyes make this community a better, safer place for all of us. He earns respect the right way and lifts people up. I want to contribute to my community in the same way. Coming from where I'm from, I know that we need to improve some things around here. For example, recently this guy was shot and killed outside of my building minutes after I entered it. My mom was terrified. This is not the reality that I want for myself or my family. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely good people in the projects that have helped me out and encourage me but I know that I’ll be leaving this place for good soon.
When I’m posted up in my room for hours because of COVID-19, I reflect on my last four years at Inwood. I’m grateful to my coaches and the teachers who’ve treated me like their son. It’s weird to think about how different these two places are--school and home--and that I've spent most of the past four years going back and forth between these two worlds. But just as COVID-19 has been teaching us a lot about ourselves and how diseases work, I’ve learned important lessons in the projects. From the projects, I learned that the guys who take the easy way out always get caught up in drugs and violence. I’m proud of myself for being staying clear of all of that. I’m proud to be ending my high school career--finishing strong with a 3.0 GPA and a city-wide championship flag football trophy under my belt. At Inwood, participating in team sports taught me many lessons about perseverance, sportsmanship, and hard practice. Staying at practice until 8 or 9 pm became a normal occurrence. From volleyball, basketball, and football I learned how to focus on the end goal in order to get through the tiresome workouts. From my teachers and mentors, I learned that it’s never bad to ask for help and guidance.
Even though I still get mad about not having graduation and being stuck in this building due to COVID-19, I’m proud of all of us who are finishing up at Inwood and moving forward no matter what gets in the way. I know there will be many more challenges for us along the way and that sometimes we may feel like giving up.
Later on, in the same poem, Tupac writes, “Did you hear about the Rose that Grew from Concrete?” This rare occurrence is remarkable because everything has been set up for it to fail. Sometimes I feel this way as a resident of the Dyckman Projects. Tupac writes that the rose “proved nature’s laws wrong and learned how to walk without feet.” Like Tupac’s metaphor, I plan to prove people wrong and accomplish everything necessary to be the kind of man that protects and serves like Mr. Edward Reyes. I plan to prove all the stereotypes wrong and hopefully pay it forward when I make it. This time in quarantine has allowed me to prioritize my goals and take action. I'm ready to show the world that there's more to me than just a kid from the Dyckman Projects. I’m the rose that grew from the concrete. Not even COVID-19 can touch me.