Each year at Farther Foundation our scholarship recipients return from their summer programs and write essays to share their experiences with us. A panel reads all the essays and awards prizes to our favorite. The first place winner this year is Oluseyi. Oluseyi earned the opportunity to spend part of his summer at Johns Hopkins University in an advanced engineering program. His essay reflects on the conditions he now struggles with in his neighborhood and the opportunities and responsibilities that will be part of his future. Here is what he wrote:
Growing up in the Southside of Chicago, I was enveloped in poverty, racism, violence, and a sense of hopelessness. I, however, have become apathetic to these behaviors and actions. I have grown numb to the headlines that highlight gang violence and have to come to terms to understand but not embrace the stereotypes of being an African-American male. I have grown to disdain my environment. I have grown to resent my own community. Each day my tenacity and ambitions are driven in hopes of one day leaving the inner city of Chicago.
I loath the fact that I cannot walk two blocks without being overcome and paralyzed by terror. Always anxious that the person walking in my direction is intent on hurting me. This lack of safety and security has had detrimental implications on all aspect of my life. My social life suffers because I confine myself in the house all day fearing if I ever go visit my friends and end up being in the wrong neighborhood I may end up victim of gang violence. Likewise, I cannot focus in school because I am at times apprehensive. As the teacher goes over the lesson, I sometimes do not focus because my mind is always racing. My mind is always thinking of the most effective and safest rout to take home for that day. Should I take the 4 bus then take the 79th bus or should I take the 71st bus and then walk through the back to get home or should I call someone to come give a ride. These are the thoughts I contemplate day in, day out. Moreover, I have become indifferent to the sight of abandoned buildings, condemned houses, and streets littered with glass shards.
When I first arrived at Johns Hopkins University, I was ecstatic because I finally escaped Chicago and all its troubles. Moreover, I was ecstatic because I was in a new environment. An environment in which people were not ridiculed for liking school. A setting in which I could walk in streets at 10:30 or 11:00 and still feel a sense of security. Likewise, my peers were welcoming and inviting. They did not care about trying to the impress the people at the dorm or program but were trying to learn. They actually valued education and learning. At first I was uncomfortable because I was not used to such a sight because growing up in Chicago such a thing was rare, to be surrounded with people who cared about school. I definitely knew I had to change my mindset and perception. Eventually, when I assimilated to this new environment, I was happy. I was enveloped by people I could relate to and that understand me- Chicago was the last place I was thinking about or ever wanted to return to.
However, as I befriended the students at Hopkins, I noticed a common theme amongst them. They all have always had opportunities in their life and will likely continue to have opportunities in their lives. They all came from affluent communities and neighborhoods and once the program was over would return to these affluent neighborhoods and communities, but I would return back to Chicago and all its problems. Then I suddenly had a moment of realization, or an epiphany if you will. I realized those people have always had opportunities; in fact, they have always had a plethora of opportunities. But where I came from, opportunities themselves are rare and as a result the kids have no means of doing anything productive and must rely on the streets for any sense of meaning or fulfillment. However, I am part of the very few who have the chance to change their circumstances and their environment and for me to omit Chicago from my life would be horrendous. For I would be turning my back on those who shaped me to be who I am, and I would be perpetuating the same traits that have left most of the youth in my community in a disparity. Moreover, I would be giving up on Chicago, breaking promises of helping those who are unable to help themselves.
Having the opportunity to matriculate at John Hopkins in order to become more than an aspiring engineer has changed me for the better and how I view my community and Chicago. Realizing the instrumental impact an opportunity can have on people’s lives by learning from those who have always had opportunities forced me to see that I have an obligation to use my skills to help the next generation by giving them an opportunity to change their circumstances, for if I abandon Chicago the amount of opportunities present will not change and all the violence, poverty, racism, and hopelessness will continue to perpetuate itself becoming an unending cycle that will ravage Chicago.