Soy César Vargas. Founder of UPLIFTT. Today, I'd like to speak to a certain bracket of the inner city Black and Latino Youth. The one that feels alone, abandoned by their loved ones, by school administrators, and their communities. Some of you are in foster care, others live with dysfunctional parents who spend a great deal of time and resources on their partners instead of you.
It isn't fair that adults are hypocrites and punish you for doing things they tell you not to do while they are guilty of doing it themselves. Sometimes you find yourself getting punished for things that make absolutely no sense and your teachers as well as other family members are manipulated into thinking you're the bad guy.
I know that sometimes you find yourself crying at night because you think nobody loves you. A father or a mother abandoned you:
Will speaks to Uncle Phil during a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode:
Amma be a better father than he ever was. And I sure as hell don't need him for that 'cause there ain't a damn thing he could ever teach me about how to love my kids... How come he don't want me, man? [Uncle Phil hugs Will while Will cries.]
Or they're out there raising other brothers and sisters that you have. Sometimes they go out of their way to be more of a parent to those kids who aren't theirs and even compare your [supposed] character flaws to theirs to break your spirit.
Some of you rage and rebel against it all. Some of you find solace in fiction, movies, reading, cartoons, music, video games, and friends. Even if those friends aren't any good for you, but you would cling to anyone who shows you any sort of interest or care.
There are people who will not stand by you, support you--they'll make fun of your dreams--especially those who are related to you. Some will go out of their way to destroy your spirit by bullying you and then accusing you of being too sensitive or too aggressive.
I know it hurts, but know that those people are broken, too. I am, by no means, excusing their behaviors because adults should know better. Some know and still hurt you. It's difficult to navigate around them and it is difficult to live in a neighborhood that has been compared to a warzone.
From The Relationship of Individual and Family Factors to the Psychological Well-Being of Junior High School Students Living in Poverty by Laura G. De Haan and Shelley MacDermid: "Life in urban cities has been compared to a war zone."
There are two things that you can do to soften some of the blows. Find a mentor (be it a neighbor, a teacher, a social worker-- sometimes it's hard to find someone who hasn't been corrupted by your guardians, but they are out there, find them) and no matter what is happening in your life, reach out. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable with those you know won't judge you or hurt you. Find a mentor who believes in you and open up to them. You will find encouragement and you will know that you are worthy of love, of respect, and consideration. You will find some who appear to be mentors and get disappointed when you approach them and they dismiss you. Do not be discouraged. Keep looking.
Two, whatever is happening around you, don't leave school. Get lost in fiction, get lost in your cartoons, it'll ease your pain, but don't abandon your education. A lot of people will promise you it's the only escape you'll have from your situation. Don't get it twisted. That's not entirely true. An education will hardly get you out of poverty.
From Derek Thompson's The Atlantic's article Rich People are Great At Spending Money to Make Their Kids Rich, Too:
Even education, the great American Equalizer, makes for a poor equalizer. It's a myth that some activists and politicians are milking to align their own pockets.
From The Myth of Upward Mobility by Richard Delgado:
Yet, studies have consistently shown that Americans enjoy much less upward (and more downward) mobility than is commonly believed. Most children of poor families remain so all their lives, and very few of those who start out in the lowest economic strata wind up at the top.
It'll help, but few people can make it out and those few people are oversaturated in the media. They're used as symbols, as examples to keep asking for more money for their pet projects, and to condemn you for not being able to get out of a bad situation unscathed. Completely dismissing the fact that you are human--with a range of emotions and need for a social network, a support system to help you carry through. They don't tell you that.
They don't tell you that, but I'm telling you, use education to open your mind, to know who is on your side. Use it to understand people. Use it to learn about your rights as a human being. Use it to feel good about yourself. Something they can't take away from you: your mind, your heart, your self-worth. Because you, just like everybody else, deserve to be treated like an equal.
A mentor and an education may not end your pain or your problems, but they'll help sooth your pain, your loneliness, and will help you understand other people--even those who hurt you so much. You are not alone. There are people out there who care about you. Find them and follow through with your promise: That one day, once you have children, you will never put them through the pain and loneliness others put you through. The cycle ends with you.
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If you're having suicidal ideation or rumination, please seek immediate help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:1(800)273-8255
You can always get in touch with a friend.
You are not alone.