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Inner City Blues
I can hear a police siren wailing down the side street. My TV is going on about a new space project that will cost the public thousands if not millions of dollars. A baby whines, as a shot, like a loaded fire cracker, is heard from just outside my front door. I close my eyes tight, wishing it would all stop.
It wasn't until the summer before I entered 9th grade that I realized how bad my city was getting. Pollution everywhere and every other night you heard cop cars and gun shots like streamers and poppers on the 4th of July. My mom would complain about a war going on in some unknown sake of a place and how all the money she's worked for was going down the drain, but I just ignored her. My mom is good at complaining and I'm good at not listening.
This one very, hot, dusty summer day, I was sitting with my best friend on my steps and I realized that something needed to change. My friend was coughing from all the dust and debris in the street, so we had to go inside, it didn't help that she was asthmatic. I turned on the T.V. and the news was on. My first instinct was to change the channel to watch videos, but my friend stopped me.
I listened closely to see what was so important. The newscaster mentioned something about a war with Iraq or Iran or Israel, one of those countries beginning with an 'I'. That's when my mom walked in and started to complain again. The United States was going to war over gas and oil. The country had nuclear bombs that could reach my city, Philadelphia. I was scared, terrified, shaking in my sneakers.
That night, before I went to sleep I heard my mom talking to my dad. She was stressed about work and about how the city was getting. This time I listened closely.
"The United States has money for wars and bombs, but they can't even help clean up this city. They can't stop the crime, but they surely have enough time to send people to another country to shoot off guns."
I thought about what my mom had said that whole night and I knew I couldn't do anything about it. I wanted to, but the question is how.
That next day my mom was half sleep at the dining room table. A pile of bills were on her right, and to her left were some pens, paper and a calculator. My dad was on the other side, counting some money and giving it to my mom. She checked off something and put it to the side. The bills were piling up.
This made me think back to March and April when my mom was exhausted from figuring out taxes. We barely had enough. My dad said most of it was going to the city, which was really going into the multi-million dollar projects. At the time, I paid no attention because my mom and dad still provided for me, but now, it's July and my parents are deep in debt. This is the time I regret begging for new sneakers and clothes and wanting every little thing I see.
"That's a shame!" My friend said to me one day.
"What?" I asked her as I watched a homeless man limp down the street.
We were walking to our favorite hang out spot, a place that's been in our neighborhood like, forever.
"This park, it’s all nasty and dirty. People keep littering and throwin' their personal trash everywhere." She retorted.
I nodded, looking at the filth covered ground. Wine bottles, hugs, bags of all kinds of chips and crack vials were everywhere. Huge snake like cracks and pot-holes were in the middle of the street and the cars keep getting stuck in them.
“Somebody needs to clean this place up.”
“How ‘bout we do it. We’ll have a cleanup day or something.”
“Yeah right, rolling my eyes, like anybody would come,” I said. That was the truth. Nobody cares about this park, or this city. All they care about is war and money and bills. See, some people are willing to fight for peace, which is an oxymoron, and, that's why it doesn't work.
As the weeks rolled on, the city became worse, the violence went up and more and more policemen and women were not doing their job. Another space exploration to Jupiter was being launched. My mom and dad's money woes were going down the drain, and every second, of every day, my parents were complaining.
For the next few days, my friend kept trying to push the 'clean up the park' theme into my head. It was working. Even though I had my doubts, I went along with the idea. We made flyers and posted them around our neighborhood. We also made flyers to stop the violence, but that was another story, to be told on another day.
Soon, the word got out and we were in business. The first Saturday in August, almost everyone was at the local park helping to clean up. People of all ages were there. Young kids to Senior citizens were there. They were all helping.
"I told you this would work." my friend said beaming with pride.
I smirked, "Let’s just wait and see."
The thing that had the most impact this summer was seeing my neighbor get beat down. It was about 9:00 pm and I was walking home from the park with my friend. We saw police cars come and slam him up against the side of another car and bust him in the head with clubs. They thought he had a gun or something on him. We watched behind the bushes. The police kicked and beat him until he wasn't able to move. That brought tears to my eyes.
I thought our ‘Stop the Violence’ posters were working, but I guess they weren’t.
After that day I was scared to go back to that park. I never want to see that again. EVER!
“I was wrong.” my friend admitted. “I thought I could change this city around, but I was wrong.”
“One person can’t change this whole city.” I said in a dull flat tone. “Just give up.”
“But I don’t want to. This city, this world, shouldn’t be like this.”
We were arguing the whole time. I knew she couldn’t change the city or the world for that matter, and she kept saying she could.
It was impossible to have one person change people all over the world. Maybe if everyone joined, the world could change, but not one person alone. Not one 13-year-old girl, anyway.
School came very quickly, and I was glad. I needed the summer drama out of my way. Our first assignment was to write about our summer.
I thought I could leave all that behind me, but I guess not.
I sat there, at my desk for about 3 minutes staring at the lined paper. Everyone else around me was writing. I could write everything that happened, but then I’d need more than one sheet. I needed a good beginning, a good hook, so when I read this out loud everyone would pay attention.
"I got it!"
The words suddenly started pouring out of my pencil and onto the paper. I got stuck a few times, but made it through. My friend tapped me on my shoulder.
“What are you writing’ bout?”
“Everything,” I smiled to myself.
“Everything?!” she asked, one part shocked and one part confused.
I nodded my head so fast; I started looking like a bobble head doll.
Our teacher called everyone up to read their story. Most of them were boring. The usual ‘I went to camp’ or ‘I stayed home all summer’ and the very popular one ‘I went on vacation to the beach‘.
Then, the teacher called my best friend. She read her story. It was about that one day we helped clean up the park. Some parts were interesting, but the rest of it was plain. She also added some parts that I knew were fake but I let it slide.
I was next. I walked to the front of the class, nervous, but ready.
“This was a very interesting summer for me...” I began. “This summer I spent all three months trying to change. Not only myself, but the world. My best friend was along with me and we did everything we could...” and the story goes on. Everyone seemed fascinated about how I described what happened. My teacher called it ’vivid’ and ’vibrant’.
Later on that day my teacher asked me if I liked writing.
I said yes, which probably meant she had an assignment for me.
She told me I should write more since I had such a great talent. More poems, short stories, and that I should submit them to magazines, and newspapers and stuff. Maybe, we could even start our own school newspaper.
That idea launched. We soon had our own school newspaper and I started submitting my work to it. I started writing more poems about the city and how it needs help, how the police aren’t doing their jobs, and about nature and how we should keep it green.
The best short story I submitted was called ‘Inner City Blues’. It was based off of a song my dad played for me once. It was something like how my summer went, but I changed a few things around.
A few months later I noticed a big change in the neighborhood. It was the park. It stayed green (literally) for a good month. Very little trash was on the ground, and for once it looked . . . clean. It was shocking, so I wrote about it, submitted it to my favorite magazine, and it got published. The magazine I sent it to even did a whole story on ‘Going Green’ and pretty soon a lot of people were “Going Green“.
I sent in another story a few weeks later, but that one wasn’t published. The people who worked for the magazine said it was good, but not great. This story was about the million dollar space project. But, they did put a poll out on their website and lots of people said it was ‘wasting money’. Exactly 51.4% people said that.
In conclusion, this war is unnecessary, and apparently a lot of people think so. All the violence was not needed and neither were those million-dollar projects. Its things like this that are putting people in debt and causing stress. Well, at least people like my mom and dad.
Maybe my best friend was right. Maybe one person could change a whole city, and eventually the world. But, for right now I was focused on me and my neighborhood, I have plans for the future, big plans.