I always lived the life of ‘I don’t care.'
About three years ago, Terrance, then 15, was hanging out on a street corner in Harlem. A man, tall and well dressed, came up to ask him where the Children’s Aid community center was. Terrance pointed out the blue awning just down the block. The stranger started to leave, stopped, turned and looked Terrance in the eye: “Hey, you interested in a job?” Terrance gave him a nonchalant “whatever” shoulder shrug. But he was interested enough to follow the man into the center.
The “stranger” was Michael Roberts, the then-new director of Children’s Aid’s Hope Leadership Academy, a man with a vision for the young people of Harlem, and a penchant for street-corner recruiting. Terrance thus became one of the earliest members of Hope.
Today, Terrance speaks of his encounter with Roberts as a defining moment: “If I hadn’t come into Hope, I would be on a really different path. I’d probably be part of a gang, selling drugs, doing something foolish.” Many of his friends, his “posse,” are in gangs. His oldest brother is in jail. Several of his family members are involved in drugs.
Terrance admits he didn’t have much hope for this new job. “At first I was only coming to Hope for the money.” But it turned out the job wasn’t so bad. The work consisted of learning to be a “peer educator,” which meant participating in workshops on gang violence, victimization, drugs, abuse, racism and stereotyping -– the issues he faced everyday in his own life. “The material—it was so realistic.”
By understanding and talking through these issues, he could begin to change them in his own life -— and this was revolutionary. “Once I came to Hope, I became my own man.” And once he mastered the material, he went on to deliver workshops on the same topics to peers in his community. “I tell all my friends, ‘You’re your own person.’ I can’t tell anyone how to lead their life, but I’m always putting a word in.”
But perhaps the biggest change in Terrance was losing the shoulder shrug. He explains: “I always lived the life of ‘I don’t care.’ That’s why I thought I wouldn’t be nothing [sic]. Hope changed that -— it really did. I realized I was saying ‘I don’t care’ but I really did care.”
Once Terrance allowed himself to care about life, one of the first desires that emerged was cooking. Hope’s after-school culinary arts program nurtured this interest. Now, Terrance has many, many plans. He graduates high school next year (the first in his family to make it past the ninth grade), plans on going to college, getting a master’s degree in business and then opening his own restaurant.