In Chicago, neighborhoods are a way to categorize a person. If you live in a bad neighborhood, you are automatically considered to be a bad person; if you live in a good neighborhood, you must be a good person.
But here's one problem: I reside in Pilsen, and I’m not a bad person.
Most of the time when I’m asked where I live, people look at me astonished and are quick to hide their valuables. Not everyone that lives in a bad neighborhood is bad. A person's environment, especially a teen, shouldn’t be his or her nametag.
I live in Pilsen, and because I live here, I'm expected to be a dropout, a gang member, and a father at a young age. Ironically, I'm nothing close to being a stereotype: I'm on track to graduate and have no intentions to be a father or a gang member. I was mostly raised by my sister; she's the reason why I am the way I am. She taught me right from wrong. My friend, Terrance Rogers, was also categorized by where he lives - Austin. Some think that he's a violent individual that has no manners because he's tall and dark skinned. Yet, he is a very relaxed and amiable person. That's the way he was taught to behave by his mother. Because of her, Terrance has made many connections with many alumni from prestigious schools and very influential catalysts in his neighborhood. Both of us are different than the stereotype of where we come from because of who raised us.
As a person that has faced this prejudice, I have learned to talk about it. As you may have seen on TV, there’s a huge rise in violence at Uptown. Most of us don’t know why, but we haven’t lost hope for our neighborhood. Even though I don’t live there, I’m a student at Uplift Community High School and have a role to play in this neighborhood. In the social justice club at my school, we write letters, talk to officials and brainstorm ideas about how to make a difference in our school's neighborhood, Uptown. Our efforts are slow, but, eventually, they will make a difference.
Just like neighborhoods speak for those that reside there, schools have a similar impact on their students. If you think of Uplift, maybe your first thought will be a scary image of teens fighting and constant flashing of lights sirens. Again, just because the environment of an individual isn’t great doesn’t mean that the person will be evil too. Yes, there is handful of “bad” kids at Uplift. Ironically, most of the kids at Uplift are good kids during class; anything after might be a different story. It's not their environment that causes their actions. Usually, there’s some kind of peer pressure involved. You could say that if it wasn’t for teen drama and peer pressure, Uplift will be a great school, but there's no such thing as a high school without peer pressure and drama.
Did I make you think twice about judging a person by their environment? I hope so. Our world has a lot of problems - don't make it worse by judging people before you know them. Speak out, and take action in your neighborhood to change what you think could be better.