A Public Housing Education

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Thursday, May 03, 2012

More than 400,000 people live in public housing in New York City, and thousands more are on wait-lists for available apartments.  When Radio Rookie Winnie Guo’s family first moved into public housing, it felt like a big step up.  Then 14-year-old Winnie started wondering about how public housing can affect the aspirations and focus of kids who grow up there.

When I first moved into public housing in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I thought, “Wow!” This apartment was clean and the view from each window was so clear.  It was a lot bigger than our old apartment in Chinatown.

At first, knowing where I live is a project building didn’t really bother me, but that began to change.  When I left my house to go to school in the morning, boys on the corner stared me down, and immediately I felt unwelcomed.  And I’d see the same boys when I come back home from school.  Everyday it’s the same thing: guys in American Eagle jeans, Polo shirts, Yankee fitteds, and Burberry belts, standing on the corner and doing nothing!

I make assumptions about them, just like this girl I go to school with, Temitayo, “All the people that live in public housing use all their money to buy expensive clothes – all those people with the True Religions.” 

I agree with her.  If you have enough money to buy “True Religion” jeans, which are $150 or more and you live in public housing I wonder how you have enough money to feed the rest of your family.

The way I dress is not as fly or expensive, so when the boys on the corner stare at me I feel like an outsider.  If you want to be part of the group, you have to do something that catches their attention to get them to “have your back.” Like my friend Chris, who pays $200 for a belt and still “sags” his pants. I asked him, “Do you think that living in public housing changed you?”

“Yeah, I went from good to bad.  When I was little I used to be a good boy, now when I grew up, I started doing bad stuff like hanging out with the wrong people.  You see those kids that are in school sagging and stuff, I’m actually like a follower. What they do is what I do.  I just want to do it to look cool.”

That is not cool!  Chris never spends time talking to me about school, but he’s always talking about ways he can make money illegally (like shoplifting and dealing drugs), all so he can show off and fit in. That’s what most people expect from young people in the projects.

This guy Antonio was standing outside my building. He said that people expect kids growing up in public housing “to be ghetto, uneducated, the whole nine. But I myself go to school, I’m actually pursuing another degree on top of the pharmacy degree I have. People would never expect any type of education to come from public housing, due to these stereotypes that carry over year in, year out.”

That definitely applies to my friend Chris. He’s even told me he feels like no one believes he can make it through high school. I found a study that NYU did in 2008 that showed students who “live in public housing perform worse in school than students who live in other types of housing.” And both groups of kids had the same income and background.  They didn’t get to the bottom of why but they gave a few possible reasons. The one that stuck out to me is that because the concentration of poverty is so high in the projects it’s harder for kids to find role models to stress how important education is. And instead they give in to peer pressure.

I think because of who lives in the projects, it can change the way a kid thinks about education, but it doesn’t have to. We all want to fit in. Even though I receive support from my parents and my teachers, I’ve given into peer pressure once in a while.  I’ve had friends convince me to skip school and cheat on tests. But mostly, I’m cool with being independent. 

Comments [7]

political pop

I got raised in projects my family had no money for any nice clothes yet u get made fun of for it but who cares about that no matter where i have lived it is always the same thing everyone knows right from wrong the rules where set a long time ago

May. 25 2012 04:18 PM

Good report

May. 22 2012 05:13 PM
Tessa from Lower East Side, Manhattan

This was an excellent piece and addresses a serious issue in our city. I teach in these projects where the reporter lives. I think her view is accurate, refreshing and inspiring. I hope it helps to open the eyes of many who often ignore or are unaware of the world of thousands of children who live in public housing and need all the encouragement they can get. I especially admired the structure of this piece - from personal to research-based to political. Very thorough. Please do a follow-up!

May. 04 2012 05:38 AM
Soriano from Morristown, NJ

The youth problem in minorities is not one of ethnicity or race. The male youth interviewed could have been any teen in suburbia. His behavior is adolescent behavior, the need to belong and conform to a group, preferably different from the style of his parents.
The problem is poverty. Families not in the poverty class have the money to buy the clothes that make their kids fit in. Kids in the projects have to get the money themselves and use whatever means are necessary. Not an excuse but a field leveling explanation.

May. 03 2012 06:01 PM
john from office

I cannot stand these segments. The diction and lack of historical perspective is amazing

May. 03 2012 03:48 PM
ellen from Yorkville, Manhattan

This young investigative reporter might want to follow up this excellent story by interviewing some of the children at the Stanley Isaacs & Holmes Towers Houses in upper Manhattan, where Mayor Bloomberg wants to build a massive facility for loading garbage onto barges. The old, unused building is about 1-1/2 blocks from the 5 buildings. If built, the new one could be even closer, possibly 100 or 150 feet from the families living there.

Here's a quote from the Mayor when asked about the safety for children of between 200-500 garbage trucks a day on nearby streets and avenues already especially congested with buses and cars (that's where two well-traveled bus lines make a turn and where cars line up to enter the FDR Drive) and right in front of Asphalt Green where hundreds of children play outside every day) on FM Radio 101.9 a few days ago:

"Well, we have to *make* it safe. People have to understand that we have streets, and trucks and buses and cars go down those streets and we have to make sure that we teach our kids to not run out on the street.”

Winnie can then look into the killing of a very smart, well-known young woman who was crossing the street a block away by a garbage truck last year.

May. 03 2012 12:18 PM

Another take on sagging pants: "Is it sexual desire or the fear of it that forces people, even other men, to gaze at young Black men’s behinds then..."

May. 03 2012 11:44 AM

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