Take a chance on someone…

Three communities made up my school district: Ingram, Robinson and Kennedy.  Robinson and Kennedy were the quintessential suburban communities all equipped with new housing developments, soccer mom minivans and smoothly paved roads.  The parents in this area looked just about as cookie cutter as their houses.  The women well manicured from head-to-toe and the men dressed for work in 3 piece suits.  However, Ingram was a bit different.
Growing up, I spent the first 12 years of my life in Ingram.  It was a great little neighborhood where you could walk everywhere you needed to go using the one main street.  The neighborhood consisted of small row-type houses, brick roads and a community shopping center.  The people were salt-of-the-earth working class folks who were incredibly down-to-earth.  In my opinion, it was a great place to live.  Because of the layout, some of my best friends Marylou and Shawn lived a 2 minute walk away.
However, when I went to middle school, I heard a much different story.  When I got on the bus for the first day of sixth grade, I remember kids referring to me and others as “Ingramites”.  The persona of an Ingramite was a lower class kid who was not as smart, good, (insert other choice adjectives here) than the kids from the other neighborhoods.  Not only did the other kids judge us, but also the teachers had their reservations too.  When I told teachers that I went to Ingram Elementary, many of them would say with disbelief, “Really, you don’t seem like one of those kids?”
Even though Shawn, Marylou and I were one of ‘those’ kids, we still went on to exceed everyone’s expectations.  By the end of high school, Shawn was the President of the school, Marylou was the Drum Major of the marching band and I was the Editor-In-Chief of the newspaper staff.  Why did this happen?  My personal opinion was because people believed in us.  We all had great families, each other and those one or two special teachers in our life that kept telling us that we mattered.  I think this fueled us.  
Quite coincidentally, today Shawn and Marylou also work with marginalized youth.  Shawn has used his talents as a youth pastor and his passion for production (both video and music) to keep hundreds of kids off the streets.  Marylou teaches in the Pittsburgh Public Schools as a music teacher.  Last year at age 27, she was named one of the 40 Most Influential People Under the Age of 40 in Pittsburgh.  Why do we all do it? If you really want to know, read one of my previous blog entries ;p.  But just maybe, it’s because someone took a chance on us and we now continue that by taking chances on others.
In honor of Juvenile Justice Week, I want to encourage you to take a chance on our youth.  Here in the state of California, we sentence youth to life without the possibility of parole.  This can happen when a child is as young middle school aged.  Imagine instead of a child graduating from high school, they graduate to the state prison.  In my opinion, this is incredibly sad and scary.  What have we come to as a society to dismiss our youth with no second thoughts? I wanted to share with you an excerpt from a child named Pierre in Juvenile Hall:
A LETTER FROM JUVENILE HALL
It’s a trip how life throws curve balls in the direction of us juveniles. I’m 17, about to be 18, but have lived through extremely difficult circumstances. Many people, including police officers, have told me I’ll be dead by the age of 18. I can’t help the fact that I grew up in a community where drugs and gangs run freely. Against all odds, I have attained my G.E.D., completed college courses, and am taking expressive writing classes.
Please don’t blame our parents when they do everything they can to help us. My parents are law-abiding members of this society but still we get harassed. We breathe the same air, and eat the same foods. So, why are we treated so differently? Is it the color of my skin, the music I listen to, or the clothes I wear? We have dreams, ambitions, and desires of our own.
I am a person, not a wall. I hurt, cry, and bleed like you do. So, why treat my life like I’m nothing. All I ask is to open your eyes, stop making decisions without looking 5 years ahead. Why put us in a system that has no good outcome?
This system only destroys lives, families, and spirits within us. So, please think about a better way to handle the future because that is what we are. Now, ask yourself: are we worth it? You give me an answer or explanation.
Sincerely,
Pierre 

Lastly, I would like to thank the following people for your generosity in donating to this cause: my twin and Joe’s cousin Isabelle, my dear friends Kelly, Michelle and Abbey, my amazing friend and running mentor Jessica.  You all put my bus into high gear!!  Thank you so much!!!!

2 Comments

  1. MLM

    YEA INGRAM! Thanks for such a sweet story and the props! You ROCK Maria! I am so proud of you! That also was a touching letter by Pierre.

    Reply
  2. Maria Costanzo Palmer

    You deserve all the props in the world my friend. What you do is important and it makes a difference in the lives' of many children.

    Reply

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