Did my family get me to the place I am today?


I had an amazing childhood. I went on vacations every year, I had a strong relationship with my father and grandfather through baseball, I helped my mom and grandma make cookies, and all in all, I spent hours upon hours with my family.

I loved it.

I grew up in what seemed to be a magical world; a world where the design was set by my family. All of their ideas, beliefs, and stories I stored into my mind as fact. I grew up in a system that stood strong until high school, when I came into contact with the real world.

I began taking the subway to school everyday into the NYC, making friends from different states, ethnic back grounds, and socio-economic statuses, and learning at an esteemed institution, Regis High School, known for its liberal ideologies. The change in atmosphere, at first, was refreshing, but soon, I began to run into a problem: the clash between my childhood fantasy land and the reality of life.

I differed from my friends in many ways. Some were a lot wealthier than myself, and hence, their families were more educated. I found myself debating with these kids at lunch about many issues. For example, they would say something about President Obama, and I would immediately exclaim, “He’s a terrible President!” Not because I knew what i was talking about, but because my family was Republican and did not support him.

Others, were a lot less fortunate than myself, and I had no means to relate to their experience. These kids would not go out to eat with some of my friends after school, and they would often complain about how expensive things were. These were the kids that held jobs, and I would often times think, “Why do they have a job? They should be studying.”

As a thirteen year old kid, I had no idea how to process these questions and experiences. In previous blogs I have talked about how this predicament led me to service and how my experiences in disadvantaged communities had an impact on me, but it also had a great impact on my family. When my family started to see me take interest in these issues, maybe even more than sports like in the past, they began to ask questions. Conversations became deeper and more personal, and while at  times we debated between each other about different issues, my family fully supported my newfound interests.

I was able to learn that my family’s, especially my parents’, passion was my passion; furthermore, they fully supported what ever I found intriguing. They soon became my biggest supporters, and in many cases, asked the question, “Hen, why don’t you do more?” My family became the driving force behind a number of my service projects. I’ve already talked about how my mom gave me the idea of the Super Bowl Boxes for AIDS orphans in Kenya, but their impact on me did not end there. They began to actively get involved in what I loved.

My family was not “bad” or “racist” they just didn’t have the same experiences or education that I was blessed to have, and with confidence, I am able to say that they are one of the major reasons why I am the person I am today.



I guess… I’m lucky?

I had three initial reactions, when met the inmates. The first, as most would expect, was one of fear. Questions, such as “What if there is a riot?” “What if I piss one of them off?” flooded my mind.

The second, was one of shock. The youth inmates were roughly the same age as us high school students, ranging from seventeen to nineteen.

The third, was one of curiosity. Why were all of the inmates men of color? I am not talking about most of the inmates. I am talking about all thirty or so.

I am beyond thankful for these initial reactions; furthermore, they have given rise too countless questions and insights ever since. The first is obvious, because who wouldn’t fear a “criminal?” If they are in a jail than we must perceive them as criminal, right? That’s how I perceived the situation for my entire life– criminals were the men and women attacking my father, a police officer. But are all of them actually a threat to society?

Let’s say for instance that I was caught selling weed by a police officer. I would probably be arrested– could be debatable due to my skin color and connections– but I would not go to jail in the interim before my court case, because I would be able to post bail. Many of the inmates on Rikers Island, which is in a sense a “holding pen” for incarcerated people awaiting trial, cannot meet the means of paying for their bail. So, these people committing non-violent crimes are being stashed away in prison with men and women whom have been accused of murder, rape, and the like, for the sole reason that they cannot afford to buy their way out of jail.

This leads me to observation number three. There must be some reason that African Americans are occupying such a staunch percent of prison cells. One key correlation must be race and socio-economic status. And when thinking about socio-economic status, one must analyze the family as a teaching unit. Moreover, children are a product of not only their parents but also their surroundings, and a child’s experiences and interactions during adolescent development play a critical role in their future behavior (observation two).

So, clearly there Is something going wrong with this system of justice. Justice or fairness clearly is not distributed equally across race and economic status. As my project expanded, I kept raising more and more questions. I began to look at prison inmates, beyond the mere title “criminal.” I was able to understand that they are just as much people as I am through conversations and activities. Just in many cases, they got dealt, as many would say, the bad hand of cards. 

I want people to understand the complexity to the word “criminal” and to begin to evaluate the justice behind the criminal justice system. This is why I am in the works of creating a partnership between Penn State and Rockview Prison.