By David Turner III. PhD Student, Social and Cultural Studies in Education, University of California-Berkeley
You want to know what bothers me?
When I tell someone where I’m from, and they respond with, “oh, so you got out [the hood],” or you “escaped [the hood].” What does that mean? Because I have achieved some sort of educational status as an incoming PhD student, that I have all of the sudden relinquished everything that matters to me?
I think not.
When someone tells me that, they are also saying that I “escaped” my family, I “got out” of relationships with my father, my sister, my friends, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, and other community members who have greatly influenced my life. They are saying that the teachers who supported me didn’t matter, they are saying that my education was subpar, and they are saying that my community was not worth coming back to.
Well, guess what, I never left.
I may be physically removed, but my heart, my soul, and all of the actions I take are to benefit my community. I moved around a lot before adolescence, and once I turned 12, we finally settled down a little in Inglewood CA, in a place referred to as “the Bottoms.” My mother, my sister, and I (my father would join us a few months later) lived there. In that neighborhood, I saw gangstas shoot at each other, drug dealers, and we had a constant police presence. Yes we had teachers who didn’t care, an occasional fight that people ran to, and a corner store where the “gangstas” kicked it. We also had liquor stores, beauty salons, barbershops, small churches, laundromats, and some walls with graffiti. On the outside, it looked like the stereotypical “hood.”
But you want to know what else I saw?
I saw these same “gangstas” help my mom with groceries when I would walk home from school. These horrible schools had some phenomenal teachers and administrators that demanded the best of you. One of my lifelong mentors began a junior fraternity at my high school to spark a college culture, specifically a Black college culture. My basketball coaches supported me all the time, made sure I got home, and half the time they bought us food so they knew we were fed. The barber I went to would give me haircuts on credit because he knew I didn’t always have money. Those same liquor stores supported our high school team. My family still runs one of those “small churches,” and we occasionally give away food to keep the community fed, even though we don’t have the money to spare ourselves. Those gangstas would play ball with us at the local middle school, and tell us to keep “schoolin’ and hoopin’ cause this gang shit ain’t the way.” The Black and Brown divide that everyone said existed would magically disappear when “Gasolina” by Daddy Yankee would come on. Despite what the outside looked like, we still had some sense of community.
So no, I can’t “escape” the hood.
I refuse to accept that my community cannot be revitalized. I refuse to accept that my community is all bad, and I refuse to accept that my community did not have assets. I will not accept defeat and “escape” the hood, because to accept defeat and escape is to say that I cannot contribute and all the time my community put into me was not worth it.
To all of my young, budding professionals out there who are from this community or any community similar to it, don’t you DARE say that you escaped. That community helped to mold you into the person you are, and you are not “Self-Made.” Sure you put in work, but someone, somewhere along the lines helped you out. It is your responsibility to lift as you climb. It is your responsibility to revitalize our neighborhoods. It is your responsibility to create change. We cannot wait on a ‘messiah-like MLK/Malcolm X’ savior to do that for us anymore. It must be done by us.
So the next time I meet someone, and in general conversation the topic of my educational attainments and where I’m from comes up, then they tell me I escaped, I will respectfully remind them that I never left.
David Turner III. is an Eugene-Cota Robles Fellow and Ph.D. student in the Social and Cultural Studies in education program at the University of California-Berkeley from Inglewood, California. His research focuses on marginalized groups, community engagement, and participatory research. He received a masters degree in Higher Education from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in Africana Studies at California State University-Dominguez Hills. David is an advocate for the marginalized communities, with intentions to both provide service and empower them.
This article originally appeared on David Turner’s blog.