Spent last night reading Slugg: A Boy’s Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration, the book by my high-school classmate Tony Lewis about his life. As mentioned in this blog previously, Tony grew up the son of one of the city’s drug kingpins and after his father went to prison lived in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. Somehow — buy the book — he not only survived but became a community leader.
The book is a good one (Goodreads reviews), well worth your time for Tony’s experiences and introspection, and I hope it’s on Gonzaga reading lists now. If there were city-wide reading lists, the book would be a great pick for them as well.
Gonzaga is only a few blocks from Hanover, but at the same time, for me, it was another world away. In my junior year, our physics lab overlooked Sursum Corda and Temple Courts. That time was the height of the beef [between the crew from Tony’s neighborhood and that from close-by Sursum Corda], and many had already died. One day, while doing some work in the lab after school, a classmate and I were gazing out the window at the buildings. The classmate’s father happened to be a superstar in the Worldwide Wrestling Federation (now called WWE). As we stared, we were thinking completely different thoughts. He turned to me and said, “Tony, is your neighborhood like what they show in the movies? You know, guys drinking forty-ounce beers, selling drugs, having barbecues….” He didn’t mean to be offensive. I could see that in his eyes. Still, the question stung. I looked at him and said, “Not every day,” and then walked to a lab table and occupied myself with work.
As I handled my equipment, his question moved all through me, cutting me each time it changed direction. I was a kid and not yet articulate enough to convey the pain, nuance, and complexity of my environment, and he was a kid with no awareness or sensitivity for my culture, though my world was merely blocks away. I’ve found people either see the hood as a place devoid of hope, or they overestimate the hope to be found there.
My classmates at Gonzaga would invite me over to their homes, but I never accepted their invitations. It’s something that I look back on with regret. I was afraid to step outside of my comfort zone. I wasn’t nearly as open to newness and difference as I am today. If I could go back and talk to the much younger me, I’d tell myself many things, one being to embrace new positive opportunities, often, no matter how foreign they seem. Tremendous growth comes from new challenges and shared knowledge between those of disparate cultures.