Ghetto Girl This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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I was born and raised in an inner city borough commonly associated with violence, drugs and promiscuity. Here, minorities are the majority. This grand town made me the person I am today.

My childhood was pleasant. The bright autumn leaves with tinges of orange and gold symbolized the beginning of a new school year when I met friends and learned new and exciting things. Summer began with the scanty deep green of bushes and trees, bringing fun and play. Every day I wandered outside reveling in the sun's warm rays and met friends for hide-and-seek and tag. In each person and place, I saw potential. I trusted everyone and feared no one. I didn't live in a ghetto, as so many call it. This was my home, my neighborhood – the only place I had ever lived. I saw nothing out of the ordinary – well, maybe a crack vile or two – or heard anything abnormal – well, perhaps a gunshot or two. To me, all of America was the same.

Time went by and I was no longer a little girl but a teenager with wonder, curiosity and an interest in life. My voracious appetite for knowledge propelled me to seek facts, ideas and new outlooks from books, teachers and peers. I began to ask questions about others, my surroundings and myself. I opened my eyes and for the first time truly saw and absorbed what formed my community.

I was 15 years old. It was a normal day and I was walking home from church. Although the streets and buildings were the same as they had always been, something was different. I was different. I saw filth and garbage on the street, I saw the buildings "tagged up" with graffiti for what they really were – the projects. A group of teenage boys, with bandanas representing a particular gang, were hanging out and smoking pot on the stoop, suspicious of cops on the prowl. Teenage mothers seemed tired of having to be adults too soon. Reality struck me. What was once a normal, safe and loving environment became a foreign land. I was suddenly a trespasser in an unknown and unsafe territory. I lived in the ghetto.

I realized we were living a life full of harsh circumstances. There was poverty, hopelessness, violence and abuse of all types. I saw my friends get pregnant, join gangs to feel accepted or become addicted to drugs to escape reality. Why? Why are talented youth with so much potential doing this? Do they think they have no alternative? I constantly wonder how much of life is chosen and how much is forced upon us by circumstance. I truly feel we control our destiny.

I have not lost hope for those who have yet to realize there is more to life than the streets. Although there are many teenagers who do fit the stereotype of my city, there are many who do not. Teens like me want to make a difference, work hard and persevere through life's shortcomings. We are bright individuals filled with hopes and dreams. We have resolved never to become involved in an activity detrimental to our education and future.

Reflecting on my experiences, I have asked myself who or what has made me strong and goal-oriented. My answer is simply my environment. I have learned from the mistakes and accomplishments of all those I have encountered. As a result, I know what I must do to continue up the ladder of success. College has always been a top priority. It is not just an institution that will train me for a career, but a place where I will learn more about myself, others and life. By making myself an even better person, I will be able to discover my vocation in life and what I can do to be of service to those around me, especially my community.

My experiences as a "ghetto girl" have made me the person I am today: dedicated, hard-working, determined and most importantly, a leader.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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