It's no secret that the environment a child grows up in has a broad effect on the way he or she perceives life. That being said, I can't say that growing up black is what influenced how I approach the world. My parents had a diverse group of friends and did their best to expose my siblings and I to all types of people regardless of skin color, but the majority of my immediate neighbors were, well, black.
My parents shielded me from many of the harsh realities of growing up in "The Hood," but with drugs, violence, and poverty on every corner, crossing paths with the conditions directly or indirectly is inevitable at some point. Determination and hard work helped me make it out, but the lessons learned are more valuable than I could have ever imagined. Even though things were tough, I wouldn't change them because I'd be changing pieces of who I am. Here's what I learned.
Life is precious
By the time Senior Year of high school rolled around, two good friends that I grew up playing Pop Warner football with were murdered in two separate shootings less than a year apart. Since then, someone I know has passed away in a similar fashion each year. Even I have been the victim of gun violence.
People around you don't have to die in order for you to put life in perspective. When people your age make bad decisions and get prison sentences longer than the time they've been alive, you realize how important freedom is. How can you even comprehend a 20-year prison sentence when you're only seventeen or eighteen years old?
Speed kills, right? Making even small decisions too fast without enough time for ample thought could turn out extremely bad for you. There aren't many second chances in the environment I grew up in, so it's imperative to take the time make every decision count.
In an environment where you don't have much, respect is everything. Any disrespect could lead to an altercation, which in the hood are rarely over at the end of a fistfight. That leads to more violence that either end with someone seriously hurting you or you being forced to hurt someone to defend yourself. Those situations can be avoided if people simply respect.
Stay out of the way
Getting involved in anything negative that doesn't concern you is a waste of time and energy because it's not beneficial. You'd be surprised how many people have been killed or sent to prison behind someone else's drama. The best thing you can do is stay in your lane and focus on your inner circle.
The value of family
People need other people. Having a support system is incredibly important. With the added obstacles that life brings when you grow up black, support systems are critical to success. There may not be much in the realm of financial support, but having family and friends that encourage you to do better is key. While in college, I juggled two jobs and fatherhood. Without a support system, it wouldn't have been possible.