Pretty much everyday, I take the shuttle to 40th st. after work. I get off the shuttle, cross the street, and continue on my journey home to eat a quick meal before my night classes. I’ve been doing this for a while now, but today was the first time I really noticed this huge mural on the side of the Red Cross building at the intersection of 40th St. and Powelton St. I looked at it, continued to walk, but then stopped and looked at it again. It was a boy with his arm raised and the bottom of the mural read, ” I am large. I contain multitudes.”
That statement is so powerful. I am large. I contain multitudes. It is so inspiring. He is a little black boy in the image. In society, how important is he? Society has a way of limiting the power of people. We are told who we are and all we will ever be. When a person hears that enough, they start to believe it.
I mentor underprivileged kids in South Philadelphia. The more time I spend with them, the more I see how their environment shapes who they are and what they know. They are limited to their surroundings. If no one tells them what they are capable of, they only think they will ever amount to what they see and what they know. Already, these kids are absorbing what they see on tv, on the streets, and at home. They emulate it, thinking that is what I am supposed to be. They bring down their peers who strive for more, telling them how they don’t belong, because if you were “real” you wouldn’t be about the life of education, traveling, the suburbs, exposure, etc. If you belonged, you would talk the same, walk the same, and live the same life as everyone else on your block.
I had to prove my worth my entire life. I have always been doubted. But I always prove my doubter wrong. It is easy to succumb to the negative comments and start to believe what other people say. But I believed in myself. When I was told that I was a sell-out, that I was trying to be white, that I thought I was too good, I still kept pushing myself towards success. When people tried to justify my success as if I had nothing to do with it, I would get so unbelievably angry, but I didn’t let that stop me. It was not easy. It still isn’t easy. I have faced things that most people I go to school with will never understand because they could never relate. They will ever understand what it is like to be ridiculed for being intelligent as if it were a bad thing. They will ever understand what it’s like for people to lose respect for you because you’re educated or you drive a nice car or you live in the suburbs. I have to downplay my achievements in certain situations to prevent getting attacked. That’s my reality. It’s not the reality for a lot of my classmates though. No one is judging them for reading. No one is dismissing them for going to the theater. No one is threatening them for moving up into society. So why would it be difficult for them to strive for success?
West Philadelphia is not the happiest place in the world. I walk down the street and just see wasted opportunities. I know that half of those people I walk by had the potential to be great. But they just settled for the basic urban struggle. Halfway educated, poor manners, unplanned kids, no money, and the list goes on and for what? Is that the life they want? No, but that’s the life the believed they deserved because that’s what they were told their life would be. They never challenged it, they just accepted it.
You have the power to be who you want to be. You can achieve goals if you believe that you can. You have to tell yourself what you are capable. Without those words, that boy just looks like a regular kid. The words show that he can be someone. He will be somebody. He is not limited to his environment.
That mural being on the corner that it is will be in the sight of many people who are limited in exposure of what life is. Will the message get across to someone? Honestly, I don’t know how many people would actually understand it. But what matters to me is the attempt of reaching someone and showing them that they have to believe in themselves. They have to tell themselves that they are somebody. They are capable of changing the world. But only they have the power to make it happen.