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May 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 8

The Great Escape

When you're young and live in a neighborhood where there are gangs and bullies, you feel so hopeless, like I did. I lived with my mother and father, two sisters, and two younger cousins. We lived on Columbus Avenue, near Egleston Station. We lived there for 10 years. There were some good times and bad times. But it all started to change for me around the age of 10. That's when the gangs started to come into my neighborhood, and most of the good times started to fade away. I felt so afraid of getting shot or beat up.
These gangs didn't care about anybody or anything but their turf. They would come and shoot out the glass doors in our complex. They would have gang wars with rivals in broad daylight, right in front of my house. Some people got shot or killed. Then us young people had to come into the house at 6 o'clock. This made me angry.
The gangs tried to get me to join, but I didn't, and so they tried to shoot me! One summer day I was walking to the store. Four boys walked up to me and asked if I wanted to join the Academy gang. I swore at them, so they chased me. As I was running, I heard two shots behind me. I felt really scared.
I felt like I had no life at all, so I started to act big and bad so no one would bother me. I had to prove to everyone that I could hold my own. I started to get into a lot of trouble in school and at home. I would fight a lot and swear at my teachers. I would fight to save face.
Then my parents, who are really nice people, helped to get the police to patrol our street and got security guards to patrol our complex to try to keep our family and others safe. It helped for a while, but one day in July of 1992 there was a shoot-out right next door to my house. Two guys got shot, and one of them died. Blood was everywhere, police everywhere. This made me more afraid.
So my parents told me last April that we were moving farther down in Roxbury. I was not thrilled with this. They said we needed some peace of mind and that young people deserve to be happy and not scared to go outside to play. So the last day of April we moved to Fort Hill in Roxbury, where we live now.
The move was tough for me. But after we got settled in, it started to be OK—no gunshots or shoot-outs, no police. This neighborhood is very quiet and peaceful. You would not even know that you're living in Roxbury. The kids here act so different; they're nicer.
I don't have to act big and bad in my new neighborhood. But sometimes I do. Now I'm trying to turn my life around. I'm trying to stay out of trouble. So far, so good. I'm no longer afraid of going out to play. I've made new friends. But there are always going to be bullies and gangs. I know you can survive by holding your own, and you don't have to prove anything to anyone but yourself. And I know that you don't have to act big and bad, because it only gets you in trouble. It's all right to be scared and afraid. I also thank my parents, who care so much for me.

L. T. Smith has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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