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Voices From The City

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After years of covering inner-city arts programs and television for The Boston Globe, John Koch decided last year that he wanted to add balance to the media's oversimplified portrayal of urban youths.

"The media are helplessly passing on a picture that's scary,'' he explains. "It makes kids feel hopeless, despairing. We are responsible for their despair because we give them such a partial picture of themselves.''

In order to give context and dimension to this picture, the columnist began searching for "authentic voices of the young'' in classrooms throughout the Boston area. He met with over 700 students, listened to their concerns, and encouraged them "to write freely about the things most personally important to them.''

The result of his six-month project is the collection of student poetry, paintings, essays, and photography that makes up "In Our Own Words: A Special Issue By and About Urban Youth,'' the Feb. 6, 1994, edition of The Boston Globe Magazine.

The work on the following pages represents only a small sampling of the original, which is available to educators in a limited supply of sample copies. Write: "In Our Own Words,'' The Boston Globe, Public Relations Department, P.O. Box 2378, Boston, Mass. 02107.

By L.T. Smith
7th grader, age 12
George A. Lewis Middle School

When you're young and live in a neighborhood where there are gangs and bullies, you feel so hopeless, like I did. I lived with my mother and father, two sisters, and two younger cousins. We lived on Columbus Avenue, near Egleston Station. We lived there for 10 years. There were some good times and bad times. But it all started to change for me around the age of 10. That's when the gangs started to come into my neighborhood, and most of the good times started to fade away. I felt so angry and scared every time I went outside; I was so afraid of getting shot or beat up.

These gangs didn't care about anybody or anything but their turf. They would come and shoot out the glass doors in our complex. They would have gang wars with rivals in broad daylight, right in front of my house. Some people got shot or killed. Then us young people had to come into the house at 6 o'clock. This made me angry.

The gangs tried to get me to join, but I didn't, and so they tried to shoot me! One summer day I was walking to the store. Four boys walked up to me and asked if I wanted to join the Academy gang. I swore at them, so they chased me. As I was running, I heard two shots behind me. I felt really scared.

I felt like I had no life at all, so I started to act big and bad so no one would bother me. I had to prove to everyone that I could hold my own. I started to get into a lot of trouble in school and at home. I would fight a lot and swear at my teachers. I would fight to save face.

Then my parents, who are really nice people, helped to get the police to patrol our street and got security guards to patrol our complex to try to keep our family and others safe. It helped for a while, but one day in July of 1992 there was a shoot-out right next door to my house. Two guys got shot, and one of them died. Blood was everywhere, police everywhere. This made me more afraid.

So my parents told me last April that we were moving farther down in Roxbury. I was not thrilled with this. They said we needed some peace of mind and that young people deserve to be happy and not scared to go outside to play. So the last day of April we moved to Fort Hill in Roxbury, where we live now.

The move was tough for me. But after we got settled in, it started to be O.K.--no gunshots or shoot-outs, no police. This neighborhood is very quiet and peaceful. You would not even know that you're living in Roxbury. The kids here act so different; they're nicer.

I don't have to act big and bad in my new neighborhood. But sometimes I do. Now I'm trying to turn my life around. I'm trying to stay out of trouble. So far, so good. I'm no longer afraid of going out to play. I've made new friends. But there are always going to be bullies and gangs. I know you can survive by holding your own, and you don't have to prove anything to anyone but yourself. And I know that you don't have to act big and bad, because it only gets you in trouble. It's all right to be scared and afraid. I also thank my parents, who care so much for me.

By Tomen Tse
Senior, age 16, Charlestown High School

My life can be compared to an episode from The Joy Luck Club. Like Suyuan, one of the mothers in Amy Tan's book, my parents carried a feather from China. This one feather symbolizes all their hopes and good intentions for me in America. From an early age, I discovered that I could succeed at tasks other people did not think I could accomplish. As immigrants, my parents often came home late from work; therefore I had to take care of myself and my sister. This experience was just a little taste of what was to come.

Junior year at Bronx Science, in New York City, was the turning point in my life. My parents felt a sense of uselessness, because they knew that they could not support me through college. My parents decided to open a little restaurant in Puerto Rico with the money they had from their life savings and also by borrowing as much as they could from their friends. I had to decide whether I should go with my parents or stay in New York for a better education. And as they departed, the feather was given to me to represent all their hopes and expectations. I remember my parents' telling me that they did not finish elementary school and wanted me to make up for it by going to college. With this in mind, I decided to stay.

The months that I had to live on my own were an experience I will never forget. Every day I had to tackle a new challenge. For the first time, I realized that I was alone and had to do whatever it takes to survive. For myself, I had to balance out everything, whether it was to prepare meals, to shop, or to do homework. I disliked the circumstances I was forced into, because they deprived me of normal childhood experiences, such as the opportunity to make or go out with friends. But as time passed, I learned to survive on my own and to be independent.

Even though I was well in New York, my parents worried about me. They wanted me to go live with my cousins in Boston, so that at least I would not be alone. Here, I adapted to my new surroundings, where I was able to continue my education at Charlestown High School, make friends, and participate in extracurricular activities.

Life is difficult for new immigrants. Many have to learn a new language, but there are still some who do not have the opportunity to do so because of other priorities. At the same time, the immigrants have to deal with racism and discrimination. I, too, had gone through many difficulties, but I had never given up on my hopes and dreams. Although my parents may not be here to give me support and guidance, I still hang on to this feather and look forward to the challenges that lie ahead. In life, one must struggle through many hardships before one can succeed.

My life is just one example of the obstacles new immigrants have to face in America. My hope is that others can use their past experiences as steppingstones, the way I have, in order to overcome their present difficulties and not lose sight of their dreams and goals. Although mistakes are made along the way, one should never give up hope. I know I haven't.

By Rachel Skerritt
Junior, age 16
Boston Latin School

He's young, big, and black. You might see him in the early hours of morning on the upper level of Forest Hills station on any Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. He is probably alone, his dark eyes darting this way and that, and perhaps he catches your eye. You are staring. He is not very tall, but he is built, and those baggy black pants make him look even bigger. His pants match his jacket, which matches his skin, and he is scowling. Though it is warm, you shiver.

His hair stands a foot high, proud, erect, rising above the crowd of people milling around the station. Yet he stands still, not a move, not even a twitch. You gape. Your gaze moves slowly to his eyes, which are huge and hypnotizing. You can tell that his eyes have never crinkled with laughter or shed a tear. The sun glints on his earring, and you notice the huge gold ornamentation in his left ear and the smaller one in his right. You shake your head in disgust and return your persecuting glare to those unfeeling eyes. He finally acknowledges your staring with a puzzled expression, and you turn away in fear.

Several others will notice him while he waits, sometimes for five minutes, sometimes for a half-hour. You may think that you know a lot about him from that quick glance, but you do not. I do. I should. He is my best friend.

I know that he is waiting at Forest Hills for the car pool to whisk him off to the upscale private school that he attends to have a head start on college. I know that he is scowling because the car pool is late, as usual, and because he hates wearing dark-colored pants to follow the school dress code. I know that he is too busy trying to get good grades, to keep his scholarship, to get a haircut. And I've known his eyes both to crinkle and to well with water. I've seen him laugh at a story I tell for hours on end, and I've watched him try to hold in the giggles while my mother is calling him a "nice young man.'' And I know that just a few days before you saw him, he was crying. Crying for a friend who had been shot four times by a group of guys dressed in white, with short hair and naked ears. I know.

Sometimes when I'm walking the two blocks home from my bus stop, I approach a man wearing dark colors and a solemn expression. I am tempted to cross the street in fear. But then I think of my best friend, and I relax. I keep walking. We pass each other. I know I'm safe.

Special Person in Control

How would you like to see me, a minority, rise to the sun?

How would you like to see me crush like roaches all those dirty stereotypes?

What would you say if I, an Hispanic woman with thoughts, ideas, and opinions, were to rule your world?

What would your eyes do if they saw me, with my tanned skin, plain but extremely gorgeous brown eyes, curly black hair, and Indian features, standing before an audience, telling of my latest invention?

How would you feel if I were hired to decide how your town was to grow?

How would you like to see our government become more powerful with mixed individuals?

Just think--

A room full of women and men, all beautiful, with mixed features, all the fruit of our races becoming one.

Men and women, extremely intelligent, with different ideals and different skills.

But coming together to make this, our world, our lives, our atmosphere, a better place to live.

By Paola Bowley
Senior, Age 18
Brighton High School

It's My Body

Message to that guy lookin' at my butt:

You yell, "Hey, Baby''
from your car as it speeds past
like you don't have the courage
to talk to me while you're standing still.

I know you're afraid I'll tell you
my name isn't Baby--well, it's not!--
and at age 13, I'm perfectly capable
of walking down the street myself
without you cheering me on.

A tight shirt should not transform me
into an animal and the sidewalk into a zoo,
and the reason that I'm on this street is to wait for
my bus or mail my letter or get to school.
I don't hang around here for your enjoyment.

Yeah--I'm beautiful like a piece of art
but I'm not hanging in a museum
or on your wall and my body doesn't belong to you
and my mind is all my own.

By Cory Sarah-Morse
8th grader, age 13
Longfellow School, Cambridge, Mass.

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