This is a teen-written article from our friends at Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing.
By Desmin B.
Today a lot of teenagers are dropping out of school and finding their education in the street. I was one of those kids.
My problems started in middle school. That’s when trouble became my middle name. The school I went to was a bad school, so I adapted to the foolishness. I’d talk nonstop and I had no respect for others or the rules. It made me feel bad about myself as a student, and that just made me spiral down further.
Things went from bad to worse when I started high school. My aunt chose an all-boys school in the Bronx, because she had connections there. I wanted a different school because I heard lots of bad news about Taft. The things I heard were unbelievable: fights every day, stabbings. The gangs in the school meant business. It seemed like this school was a war zone. My first day confirmed many of my fears.
Surrounded by Sharks
Metal detectors were at the entrance and kids were forced to walk through to make sure no weapons were brought into the building. This was stressful and made me feel like I had no privacy or rights.
As I made my way past the metal detector, I saw crowds of rowdy kids in the cafeteria. It reminded me of the prison yard at Riker’s Island. It made me feel like a little fish in a big sea, surrounded by sharks.
My school was one of six in the building. Walking up the stairs to my classes was wild and dramatic. Everybody was yelling, rushing, banging on the wall, bugging out on the staircase. I saw kids hanging in the staircase throwing trash. Kids were being bullied all around me. When I got to my floor, I saw nothing but cameras.
I quickly learned that being a freshman made you a target. So I only hung around the freshmen on that first day — strength in numbers. No joke, by the end of the first day, a kid had been stabbed right in front of the school.
Trying to Fit In
School felt like anything but a place to learn. It was part fashion show, part war zone and part drug turf. And the way the school tried to respond made it feel like a prison. Police officers roamed the building checking for gang recruiting, gang activity and drug dealing.
Every morning in school, some kids would gather to make fun of people’s clothes. So I made it my business to stay up-to-date with my gear and to never look like a bum. But there were times I didn’t go to school because I felt like I didn’t have the right clothes.
Having the right gear was part of what determined whether you were part of the “in” crowd. In my school, if you weren’t part of the in crowd you felt like a nobody. But if you stuck to yourself you would be a constant target for the other kids.
I was the new kid until I started connecting with some peers in classes and at lunch. We were able to relate to one another because some of us smoked or hustled. Also, we all had a common goal to get females in our school. Before that connection was made I was nobody; now I made my way into the in crowd and I was somebody.
But to be somebody, you also had to have cash. I had to buy my fancy gear. The kids I hung around with had money; everything they wore was name brand. Times were hard for me so I started selling drugs in school to make some money. Selling drugs was easy for me because I hung around smokers.
Fighting Off Bullies
I was valued by my peers in the in crowd for having expensive things, but my gear still didn’t get the bullies off my back. Bullying affected me in a major way. I knew two kids in particular who loved digging in people’s pockets and taking things that didn’t belong to them. They used to take little things of mine.
Once they took an expensive hat from me, other times they took my money and my MetroCard. This made me worry about my valuables and the money that I carried. I was so nervous when I went to school, I went out of my way to make sure I didn’t run into them.
One day they took some special beads off my neck. After that I wanted to fight. I was tired of being their target and of being afraid. I made it my business to let them know I wasn’t playing any more. That day after lunch, I waited by the stairs, enraged and ready to fight. They knew I wasn’t playing after everybody started telling them what I was about to do. They backed down, and gave me my beads without any problem. Before they left they told me they respected me and that they were just seeing how much I was going to take.
Reprinted with permission from Youth Communication.