I can vividly remember the first time I ever saw someone being shot.
I was born and raised in New Orleans and I grew up in the St. Thomas projects until they were tore down. I have a lot of good memories of growing up in the St. Thomas. It’s where I met most of my friends that I’m associated with now. Just growing up in the projects, we made something out of nothing, basically. But I can also say that’s where I really got my first taste of negative things, too.
One day we were playing football in the front court. We were just playing, going back and forth, catching the ball, running, and I remember all of a sudden two guys ran through the front court. At some point I guess the man in front of him just got tired. He stopped and turned around, and I noticed the other man running behind him had a gun. That guy shot him in the neck. You could just see the blood gushing out of his neck. He was maybe 10 feet away from me. I could actually see the bullet come out of the gun and shoot him in the neck. So, I’m like “man that could have been me - I was this close away.” What if he would’ve aimed and the man would’ve tried to run away? That was when I realized how serious it was - living in the area I was living in. And that, still ‘til this day, plays vividly in my mind. I can really recap step by step what happened that day. Sometimes I could just be sitting in the tub, thinking about it and I’ll be like “Wow!” I can’t believe some of the things I really saw at a young age. At that time, I was around 11 or 12 years old.
I tried to talk to some adults about it - some of my older cousins and my older aunts - but they were just like, “That’s life.” My mom has been my rock my whole life, so I would also talk to her about it. She would try to console me and tell me things like “this is not the way it’s supposed to be,” and “just try to stay away from it.” And I would understand that and listen to that information that she was giving me, but there was no one I felt like I could go to to really help me deal with what I was going through. I really didn’t have anyone to talk to. So, at that time I used to just vent out to some of my friends. We’d talk about it, but we’d mostly laugh about it. So we really weren’t getting to the deep root of it.
We were told that that was normal, so we didn’t seek out any type of help from any counselors or mentors because I felt like if I seek out help maybe they’ll think I’m crazy, because the whole world is thinking this is normal and I’m thinking it’s not normal. I might be looked at as if I’m not normal, as if I’m crazy. So, I never really was the one to talk about a lot of things. I kept a lot of things bottled in because I didn’t wanna feel like I was singled out. I didn’t really understand that yes, this is life, but this is not what you should have to go through in life. We need to get away from this “norm” that killing people is life. That’s not what life is about.
Now, I can really look back and say “yes, this experience has changed me.” Immediately after the shooting I was still going to school, and that was around the time my grades started slipping. Not paying attention to it then, but paying attention to it now, I realized that was part of the reason because I couldn’t focus. My mind was still stuck on the things that I saw. And so, it used to kind of play on me. Once I got away from my friends and got home - I’d sit inside and just think about it. Also while I was at school, I feel like that was part of the reason my grades were slipping, because I couldn’t concentrate. Most of the work I had in front of me, I knew it, but I’d just zone out and really wouldn’t do the work. So the teacher would ask me “why aren’t you doing your work,” and then I’d lash out at the teacher, not knowing that all that was because of the things that I saw.
That was my first instance of seeing someone shot, but it wasn’t my last. Later on in life I experienced more and more violence and throughout my life I always looked at it like, well this could be me. I think it would have helped me to partner me up with like a mentor or have one of those organizations come to our school to talk about trauma. That would have been good because I didn’t know I was going through trauma. So, how would I be able to discuss it if I didn’t know I was going through it?
At that time if I had someone in my life, just to talk to me, like my father or someone in my life to mentor me, to help me deal with what I was going through, I’m pretty sure I could have made some better decisions and I could’ve went to college. But I didn’t have anyone and instead I turned to selling drugs. It was all I was exposed to. A lot of the things that were happening around me, as far as a lot of the killings and things, it was all because of drugs. A lot of my friends sold drugs, my brothers sold drugs, so I felt like I had no other choice but to sell drugs. And then when I found out I had a child on the way while I was still in high school that’s when I felt like I needed to provide for my family. That was one thing I was always taught, no matter what you go through, take care of your family. Even though I knew my Mom was telling me to take care of my family legally, I took it as take care of my family, no matter what. I was raised by my step father, who was there for me and who I consider my dad, but I didn’t see my birth father for over 20 years. And because of that, there’s nothing anyone could tell me that would stop me from being in my daughter’s life and keep me from providing for her. I know when I got into selling drugs that’s where I really went wrong, and eventually I ended up in prison because of it.
One thing I can honestly say is that my good decisions started from my bad decisions. I remember one specific instance that changed the course of my life. While I was in prison, after about three years, I received some mail from my daughter. I showed her letter to my cellmate, who was an older man that had probably been in jail about 15 years at that time, and I was just like “Man, look at my daughter man! My daughter so beautiful. I can’t wait to go home and get to my daughter!” He was like, “Man, you need to get out there. Hurry up and get back to your daughter.” Then he grabbed a picture and showed me his daughter. He said, “See her right here? This my daughter, but I’ll never be able to see her again.” At that moment, it was something that made my heart just drop. It hit me like, this man is gonna be in jail for the rest of his life and I’m in here playing around with my life. Right then and there I decided I needed to go home and do something with myself because I’m not tryna be in jail for the rest of my life, not ever gonna see my child again. Little does he know, he was a mentor for me at that moment. He showed me what it was like to care for your family and do things that will benefit your family. So, I said once I get home, I’m not going back to jail.
Once I came home the first thing I did was enroll in school. I enrolled in SUNO in 2013 to pursue a math degree, because all I’ve ever loved is math. Even when I was young, going through those traumatic experiences, math was something I still focused on because it triggers something in me. One day one of my classmates that knew I had just gotten out of prison said, “Why don’t you stand up and just tell the class about where you come from?” At first I didn’t want people to see me in a different light, but he convinced me it was something people needed to hear, so after a few weeks I stood up in front of the class and talked about it. I told them what I had been through, where I was at that moment, and what I’m tryna do, and before it was over, I had the whole classroom come up to me and shake my hand and tell me how brave it was. Ever since then I’ve started going different places, just talking about my life story. I realized that talking about what I was going through was helping me get through it. Then later my old probation officer asked me to speak to some men that had just been released from prison, and that was another amazing experience. I found it easy to talk to them because I’d really been through it, and afterwards about 3 or 4 them came up to me and asked me to help them get enrolled in school because they wanted to do something better with their lives. I helped them enroll in school, and recently one of them has become one of my closest friends, and he just graduated from Delgado. I’m very proud of him!
I graduated from SUNO in three and a half years with a math degree at the top of my class, cum laude. I’m not only the first generation in my immediate family to graduate, I am the first person to graduate period. I set the bar! I have so many nieces and nephews right now that don’t have any other choice but to reach that bar. I’m not accepting anything less! Now I’m a full-time math teacher and sometimes I can’t believe it. This is something I never envisioned, but now look at me. Being a teacher has given me this platform to talk about the things that I’ve been through, and maybe I had to go through them for a reason just so I could be here to talk about it. I’m grateful - whatever I can do to give back to these kids and help, I’m willing to do. When I talk to the kids and mentor them, they really sit there and take in everything I say. I can really relate to them, and sometimes I can see that some of them may have had some experiences similar to me.
That’s why I think we need to have someone who specializes in mental health inside of our schools. That way when kids are “acting out” we can have someone right there on the spot for them in the moment. Instead of suspending you and getting you expelled (which will affect you worse), we can have you go talk to someone who specializes in mental health to help you get through it, then get you back to class so you can get back to learning. ‘Cause the more time you spend outside of school, the less learning you’re doing. We need a plan for youth in our schools. After we find out what type of trauma you’ve gone through, if you don’t have a plan in order, just talking about it is just gonna be talking about it. We need to talk about it then act upon it.
Back when I was younger I never thought about speaking to a mental health professional, especially as a kid because I didn’t know anything about it. That wasn’t something that was portrayed to us as youngsters - speaking out to specialists who help us deal with what we were going through. And like I said, I really didn’t know that I was dealing with trauma until looking back on it. If I would’ve known that then, I’m pretty sure I could’ve made some of the right decisions. But now at this point, I don’t care what anyone thinks of me. Mental health is the best thing for someone. If your mind is not mentally stable, the rest of your body is just going to fail. So, of course speaking out to a mental health specialist would be something good for those kids. At this moment, I feel like my head is on straight, but I still would love to speak to someone. They could still help me go through the things that I’m going through, because I’m not perfect. I’ve been through a lot. I’m still going through a lot! But I’m in the mindset right now that I won’t let anything affect me. I have a mission. I have a vision. I have a purpose. My purpose is to give back something to these kids that I never had.