Leaving the Ghetto for Good

I have been on the fringes and actually in the ghetto for years. It hasn't been conscious until now. I've been immersed, bracing against the waves of dysfunction and sadness. Ghetto, borderline white trash. Fighting against it without saying a word. Riding the wave in silence, observing while trying to fix by example. I have left finally. I'm playing out my last days of it in the high school in which I work. Ghetto, a version of every over the top teacher movie, like Freedom Writers except there aren't big choreographed fights and those kinds of success stories. There are both, of course, but the fights are raw and YouTubed and dumb and seemingly innocuous when begun and the success stories are more the norm and common than anyone lets on. Not everyone in Ferris is ghetto born; there are others like me on the fringes, bracing, waiting to escape the brutal, every man for himself mentality in such an environment. That's worse than the fighting. Every girl and boy just trying to get through with some sort of normalcy -- too much to tune out, too much hate and prejudice to filter. Survival. A ghetto mentality whether in it fully or surrounded by it is all about survival. I'm at the end of it and I'm both thrilled and worried. How will I live without this battle? I'm so used to it.

We were at Loma Alta Park when I almost got jumped by some girls defending their "boy". I mouthed the words to some friend, "I almost got raped." This guy, a gang member my sister hung around, a Crip from around the block came over and hung out and he pushed himself on me to try to kiss me. I got away. I had been making polite conversation with him during the evening as I always did when my sister had random people over. I didn't want to be rude and I was kind of afraid. Ghetto. Crips in my house. I was listening to The Smiths and The Cure and finding my way to myself and the ghetto was in my house. Bracing. Waiting. Creating an inner world without moving. I was almost jumped because of the code of a gang.

We recreate in an attempt to understand. I recreated for eleven years as a teacher. I wanted to help and save. I still do, but the battle is deep and long and layered. I look like a white girl going in and preaching how it can be different. Many listen, some don't. I preach about how I live in the same neighborhood, only a few blocks away from school. "I live in Jersey City just like you." I used to say to them. "You live right across the river from New York. What do you mean you've never been there?" Ghetto. Mired and tarred in the muck of despair and lack, thinking that to want more is to be white, to read a book is to be white, to study is to be white, instead they talk about fights and mollies and weed and alcohol and parties and Instagram and boys and girls. To be something is to be white. To want more is to be white. Schools don't address anything. Band aids at best. These kids come in wanting love and support and somewhere to feel safe even if they can't express it and we test the shit out of them. Set them up for failure when they're already failing at home. Glorious system we have going here. Ghetto. Ghettos are perpetuated by schools. I have lived on the fringes. How did I turn out this way?

I saw my sister a couple of weeks ago. She is still in the ghetto. Location is only part of it. Ghetto is a state of mind even when you're surrounded by nothing but. I've been in it and seen it and I've brushed up against its blue pulse, a mimic of life, its destruction pouring at every turn, encapsulating victims, creating victims, keeping the weak, weaker, the poor, poorer. Ghetto.

One month and I will not be bracing for protection. I will no longer be immersed in its charm. I cannot save them all. I need to be out of it to do more for them. Lifting myself higher for the greater good of many. No playing small anymore. Goodbye ghetto.