“If you could give students advice, what would it be?”
“Don’t stress yourselves out. College isn’t all about the party.”
“So what do you think it’s about?
“It’s about learning to better yourself, to prepare yourself for the adult world.”
“And what’s the adult world like – scary?”
“Well I’m 21. This is the prep for when you go out into the new world. I’m a mother. I’m in school too.”
“What keeps you going?”
“Being in school, the environment, the things I was introduced to in school. And the smile on my kids' faces. It lets me know that what I’m doing out here is for a purpose, not just for myself. That’s what keeps me going. I want my kids to have a better life. I want them to exceed me.”
“How did you guys meet?”
“He facebook stalked me.”
“Yeah, we initially met on cyberspace.”
“He was kind of the matriarch of the queer community at penn.”
“The reason I was creepily stalking underclassman was that I took it on myself to find everyone I could that was either out or closeted and show them the community. I think that one of the most important lessons I learned at Penn was that the most intimate sign of affection you can show to someone is giving them your undivided attention. I think that’s incredibly rare.”
“What do you most desire in life?”
“I know that I don’t want money. I don’t really need success. In the traditional sense. From past experience, if I’m not helping someone else then what I’m doing is completely worthless. It doesn’t mean anything. In my future, that’s what I want – to care about people. That’s the only way I’ll be happy. Well not happy, but when I’m looking back on my life, that’s what will give me peace. Knowing that I didn’t hurt anyone."
"I was a gang member. Mother raised six of us. Mother was on welfare. Every three blocks there was a different gang. I had to fight inside school, during school, after school, every day. Just because you wasn’t from here. You were a stranger."
"How did you get out of that?"
"In 1974, it got real bad. A lot of people was killed in gang wars. Me, myself and some other guys got together and said enough is enough. We called a peace treaty. We sent memos around, we said we're going to stop gang war. We had a slogan "No More Gang War in '74.” All the gangs were invited, to City hall. We made a peace treaty. We shook hands. We walked away. By '75 it was over. Right now, people we used to fight, we’re best friends.”
“When you look back on that time, what do you think?”
“Thank god I survived.”
“What’s it like now?”
“Now, it’s worse. But what I do is mentor and after school programming. My two worst kids end up being honor roll kids, going to college. They call me every now and then when they come in town, doing speaker engagements. We teach life skills. Conflict resolution. I’m so glad I talked to you. We need some people like y'all to help us.”
“If you go back ten years, I was intent on making a career of hip-hop. I was on BET, MTV, had music placed in a movie. 5 nominations for some underground music awards. I always kept a job though. By the day, I worked in the community center. By night, we were doing shows. Eventually, I realized that I wanted to go back to school.”
“How does that feel - being a freshman?”
“It humbles me. People always say when they get big awards, I’m so humbled to get this award. I’m like you’re lying! You’re happy you got this award, you feel privileged, you feel good.
Humbled is when you feel embarrassed and you’re humiliated. At certain times I feel that way, being a freshman and being older. I feel humiliated. But I think it’s good for me and I’m very happy to be in this place. The way that I understand it is, I can spend four years and not do school and see where I’m at then, or I can do four years of school investing in myself, investing in others and see where that gets me."
Help support Casey as he pursues his dream! http://www.gofundme.com/ivy-tech-to-ivy-league
“Every penny that is donated goes towards changing someone’s life. “Grassroots” is more than just a food truck. Where we come from we see people making a lot of negative choices. I have a lot of friends and cousins that are in prison. They hear what I’m doing now and they’re so happy I’m working. But they don’t know what I’m working for. I’m working for them. We didn’t make it, we didn’t hit the lottery, we just want to let you know what hard work can do. You can help somebody when you work hard.
From the profits of the food truck, we want to put together a nonprofit called “A Few Good Men” that will help the young people in the community with training, giving them a good reference to get a job and putting them through the ropes like I went through. I want to be a mentor. To give back. Show people on the outside there is somebody to come talk to. Everybody needs help at some time in their lives. There are other options out here. I feel like I can be the person who says 'come work with us for a little bit. It ain't fast money, but it’s your money'. Just taking stuff out to the dump. Mopping. Soup kitchens. Feeding the homeless. Picking up trash. There’s a bunch of stuff. We’re taking it one step at a time with “Grassroots”. And “A Few Good Men” is coming right behind that. The first profit we make we’re going to get someone to document every move we make. Let them know we are giving back. Let the donators know we are going to be true to our word.
We’re going to make the change. It’s not going to happen overnight but we’re going to be here for a long time. We’ve always been here.”
9 days left to help Troy and Kareem achieve their dream: https://www.crowdtilt.com/camp…/grassroots-food-with-a-cause
"Maybe someone will see this and it will help them get through the day. Even one person is enough.
When my mom passed away, I had to adapt to a new normal. It was almost two years ago. Even now, there’s a before that happened and an after that happened. It’s not uncomfortable for me to talk about it. It’s scary because it makes me vulnerable, but that’s ok. It makes me stronger. It’s part of who I am. I share my story because it has shaped who I am now. I think it makes other people uncomfortable- they aren’t sure how to react. I know they might feel bad.
The hardest question to answer is, how are you doing? People implicitly expect you to say you’re ok. It made me realize a lot of people might be dealing with struggles that you don’t really know from the surface. I’d want them to know they are not alone. It’s easy to feel very isolated because no one wants to talk about it. But there are a lot of people that feel the same way. And if you bring those people together there’s a sense of belonging.
The other day, a girl that came to our Students of AMF Support Network at UPenn picked up the DP and saw my column - it also was the 3 month anniversary of her mom’s passing on that day. It helped her get through the day. That made it worth it.
You don’t know how many times that could happen.
Sometimes I remember a scene from the Lion King, when Rafiki tells Simba to look in the water and he sees his own reflection and tells him, “he lives in you”. My mom lives on through the number of lives she has touched, the number of people who may have changed because they came into contact with her. It’s just knowing that you did the best you could do, today."
The original DP column can be found here:http://www.thedp.com/article/2014/01/dealing-with-grief
"I’ve been working at Bon Appetit for 14 years - started off washing dishes. The best part of my job is the students, interacting with them, knowing them on a one on one basis. For example, I didn’t know anything about Jewish culture before I started working here - so I can take what I learn from students here and share it with my kids and grandkids.
And preparing food! My favorite dish is fish and grits. I love to cook for people. I love seeing the expression on their face after I prepare a meal.
I don’t let life beat me down too much, I take it one day at a time. Even when I’m sad, I’m still happy."
"My experience abroad was really quiet. A lot of alone time and silence. Made me come back and value the noise. The sounds I could hear. The people I could talk to. I had been talking to my friends on Facebook, through email for a long time but I hadn’t heard their voices. There is something about someone’s tone – you can tell how much they love you. How much they miss you. Or how much they don’t. So I think coming back and being able to experience someone’s presence - the full force of it - was really tremendous for me.
But I think while I was there, I became really aware of my own voice and my own presence. Which was something I had never solidified before. You need silence. Even if it’s not silence you want."
Note: special thanks to my project partner and photographer, Jeanette Sha, for her courage and confidence - approaching, photographing and befriending strangers with me. This project would not have been possible without her expertise, spirit and creative talent.