Some movies are set in neighborhoods to portray certain hoods like Compton, Queens, the Bronx, Detroit. Some documentaries try to delve into the dynamics of living in the hood, the systems, rivalries, etc. The portrayals and the footage of the busted houses, bullet holes in signs, expensive cars with special suspensions to rock with down the block, thugs giving you side eye. Most of these aren’t the reality in my hood. Southwest Philadelphia isn’t home to any Bloods or Crips, most of the crew's’ names don’t exist. We don’t have cars rolling down the block at 5 m.p.h., bumping to the bass of any N.W.A or Tupac song. We do have busted houses, bullet holes in signs up and down Elmwood Ave, and people throwing out looks that would make you cry. It isn’t all bad though.
My neighborhood affected me in ways I had never realized until this question was posed to me, what is the relationship between the self and a changing world? It raised me, especially the people in my neighborhood. My neighbors may not have always been the most law abiding citizens, they were pretty dangerous. But they are my second family. They helped me with my throwing arm, protected me, teased me like any big brothers and sisters would. More than anything, they taught me about the world and how people work. I learned how to physically and mentally protect myself. They did not have to say anything to me for me to learn. I would watch.
I was a pretty observant child. I would pay attention to all the conversations I wasn’t supposed to, their body language, everything. Just by watching the world around me, I became a very complex person. My neighbors and even my parents were very quiet but loud. I know that sounds kind of stupid. How can you be quiet and loud? They were quiet about relevant details to stories, what was going on with them and their lives. They were loud about things that did not matter, and what made them mad, etc. I never seen any person or adult around me growing up, back down from a fight or a problem. In turn, I was taught how to defend myself with words and my hands. I was taught that my voice and my opinion mattered, and anyone who said differently could get shut up. I was taught to not be a wimp.
Everyone in their life probably has a bullying story, I have a few of my own. My elementary school was very interesting, and I stuck out a lot. I was very intelligent for my age, I was small and thin, basically an easy target. I started to hate myself then. Yet, I never let anyone get away with it. I learned that you never had to put your hands on someone to hurt them. The problems at school got really bad, but I never let anyone see. I never told my parents or my neighbors, or teachers. I would go off, start firing insults back. I can not really remember the things I would say, but I was eight so I doubt any were worth remembering.
I got to middle school and I was the new kid, but I didn’t really care. I had built up this new person I would be, like most new kids do. I became open about anything, but I caused a lot of problems for myself. Everyone is a mess in middle school, no doubt. No one can look back on those years and say, “Wow, those were some fun times.” I got into a lot of arguments. A lot. The new school, new me attitude had a really strong personality. Anytime I felt disrespected, I popped off. I am still really surprised I never got in a fist fight in my life.
I started to be disliked a lot, just because I didn’t take shit from anyone. With losing friends each year, I never lost my love of learning. So I engulfed myself in school even more. Yet, by the end of middle school, I only had two or three close friends. Which was fine with me, because they were loyal and I am still friends with two of them to this day.
If there was anything I learned from growing up in the hood, it was that you only need two or three people to rock with. Telling your business gets complicated and messy, and nobody deserves to know any part of who makes you who you are. If people aren’t worth it, then you cut them off. Of course in southwest people cut other people off in an entirely different way! Even in this paper, I am not opening up in detail about everything. It is permanently etched in my brain to not give a lot of myself or what I go through up.
In turn, everything I went through in middle school tore me up inside. I never showed it, until one mental breakdown in the hallway in 8th grade. After that incident and graduation, that summer became one of the hardest of my life. I had so much going on and a lot of the problems were all inside of my own head. But just as my hood taught me, you do not let people see. So, I breezed through my freshman and sophomore years as smoothly as I could. And I never got to work out so many things about myself.
I have always known I was a good person, that was never a question. But I had so much to get over. So, I did. A lot of people who have major insecurities and self esteem issues deal with it outwardly and even harm themselves. I never hurt myself, but I took my insecurities out on other people. When I got mad, I was furious, because I had so many emotions going on. I would hone in on something that made me mad other than myself, and feed off of it. It is easier to hurt other people than hurt yourself.
A lot of my neighbors and people I grew up with started to get in trouble. A lot of people who were a big part of my life, got locked up. A lot of my close family friends and family started to die. Not from the streets, but losing them nonetheless. This closed me off even more. I felt as though I did not fit in anywhere. Just as the characters in the novel, “The Yellow Birds,” their worlds were changing everyday, and they felt so closed off from society.
There is this Evergreen tree at the end of my street. If you have ever seen any hood movies, or live in the hood, there are not always a lot of other trees than plain oaks. So an Evergreen is almost impossible to come by. I am mesmerized by it every time I am walking home. It is so out of place. The tree is never bare, but it is magnificent and beautiful. Captivating if you stare for more than a beat. I am that Evergreen. I always have my armour on to protect me from the outside world, I stick out in places, but I am magnificent and beautiful. It may have taken me a long time to grow, but I am not going anywhere anytime soon. I thank my hood for everything it has taught me, my home.