Getting Out of the Hood Isn’t As Easy As You Think

As a current Duke student, matriculating to college was and is one of the most drastic life changes that I have ever experienced. Moving halfway across the country from my family, being completely independent, learning that hard work means studying every spare second that you aren’t in class, all while attempting to have a social life. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? When you look at that story, it isn’t unique. In fact, many of my classmates have move over several countries to be here. But what makes me different is not the story that I have told above, but the story that I must share below.People always say that once you come to college, where you went to high school doesn’t matter. Which makes sense when you think of how many students have gone to fancy-schmancy private schools that probably cost how much tuition is for Duke. But what people don’t take into account is the other side of the coin. And that’s where my story comes in.

I went to high school at a charter school that is nationally known for getting students to and through college, which was amazing, because my mother and I had decided unanimously decided that not only would I be going to a college or university, I would be going as close as I got to the Ivy League, if not the Ivy League, itself. That being said, the school that we had was designed to help underserved (read: poor minority) students in lower-income (ghetto) areas. It wasn’t funded to it’s capabilities, and it severely lacked in terms of the quality of education, which was already lacking, since it was in Texas. Our cafeteria was tiny, the gym often needed fixing, and the teachers would come and go. They wanted the best but they were still brand new, and I think my class and the other two classes before us were the guinea pigs.

We lived in the hood, the ghetto. Our version of gated community was that the apartment complex had some thin, half-rusted gate around the perimeter. Our place was often in the news due to lack of air conditioning and poor water conditions. We were lucky if our clothes were clean and dry by the next day of class (and we had to wear uniforms, and everyone only had one pair of uniform pants each). Sometimes, we cleaned out the pantry and had to eat a lot of food that didn’t quite fit, or there wasn’t enough for my mom. She didn’t eat a lot. It was so bad that we had my brother sleeping on the couch in the living room. I dreamed of the day that I would make it out, that I could go to college.

And I did. In June of 2014, I graduated high school and was on my way to Duke on scholarship. I had done it. I went to Mississippi with my grandfather proud that I had made it out of the ghetto. But I am not the rule. People at Duke don’t know this off the bat, so I often hear people speaking freely and honestly. Whenever we hear about underserved people not going to college and such, I hear people say things like, “Well, my father came into this country and he worked hard and now he’s successful, I don’t see why they can’t do it.” Or, “They just want to act all hood instead of being respectable and carrying themselves properly.”

Want to know the truth? The bootstrap theory DOESN’T EXIST. There, I said it. A lot of these people in the ghetto are Black or Hispanic, and don’t make that much money. In addition, they face issues like being over-charged for poor living conditions, being charged and arrested by the police for “seeming suspect,” and having to struggle to get food in food desserts (Yeah, they’re real). And often, these students aren’t told about the ability to go to college or university. College is a privilege to them, not a right. Many of them look at the price of college and them and their parents decide that it’s absolutely out of the question. Many of the families are living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to put food on the table, and due to lack of proper education, they have no knowledge of financial aid and school scholarships. They don’t know that it is possible to go to in-state schools at a very affordable price. And this is because they don’t have someone looking out from higher positions for them, like many of these students. The amount of connections I made due to my charter school and the nonprofit music program I was in helped me get to Duke, and I know I wouldn’t be here otherwise.

I plan to go more into the myth of the bootstrap theory in a later post, but I want to call attention to what we can do to help out these students instead of complaining that they don’t do anything. Instead of critiquing students, go and help them. Be that person looking out for them, give them that encouragement. Because as we know, your support team is vital to your success.

-JW

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