Because I’ve lived in New York my entire life, I could never truly appreciate the diversity of the neighborhoods, mostly because I wasn’t aware. When I met other people who weren’t from the city, they expressed a burning desire to live in New York and experience the glamor. They desired what I called “The TV New York.” That was the phenomenon of rich Manhattan, where glamorous models roamed the East Side in six-inch heels at five in the morning, where every weekend included sun-kissed boat rides around the Hudson, and where yellow cabs, Broadway shows, and shopping trips on 5th Avenue were usual luxuries. Every night seemed to bring new excitement and possibilities for wonder, as if it was pouring out from the gray concrete. That is what New York meant to outsiders. I, however, am from a different part of New York, a part where young blacks kids have the faces of old fighters. I wasn’t privileged enough to belong to “TV New York”. I am from a part of the New York that isn’t desired, one that many people disregard.
I grew up in parts of “Forgotten New York”. Here, the fathers steal away in the wind of young life and mothers have the mental strength of ten men. Many people are familiar with the tiny packets of white substances that polka-dotted the dirty streets. The corner stores are gray with age and neglect, and many homeless individuals make themselves at home in there. The strident voices of Caribbean immigrants flew through the airs of the blocks, echoing off the pavement. The Lord has left his grace on the psyche of the residents, because they witness Him take so many of their partners’ lives. Yellow cabs didn’t run through here. There isn’t much attraction to this world; many of the “TV New Yorkers” go well out of their way to avoid places like these. There isn’t much glamor in this life; the sun came out but it never shined. But every now and then an emergence of subtle beauty would provide a blanket over the neighborhood. It would appear in the form of a regular Sunday at the park; watching the kids play and seeing your mother smile from their happiness. Those were great moments; those are moments I remember being happy.
I was first introduced to “TV New York” when my mother decided to enroll me in a private school in my seventh grade year. I went to a private school named Packer in Brooklyn Heights, one of the most affluent places in Brooklyn and New York City as a whole. My school was 90% white, and for the first time in my life I was an outsider looking in. For the first time in my life, I noticed the how different I was, how bronze my skin was, and I was very afraid. I was thrown into this new world without a life vest, praying that I wouldn’t drown. However, I found that as I got older and became more assimilated with this world, I became increasingly detached from my neighborhood. I no longer had much in common with my old friends. I started buying more expensive clothes, going to Starbucks almost every day even though I hated coffee, taking cabs everywhere that I could just take the train to. I almost ran my mother broke in the process. Everyday I walked on those clean, privileged streets and occasionally forgot who I was and where I came from.
I was invited to a sleepover within my first few years of attending Packer. My friend, Amanda, lived on the Upper East Side, one of the richest neighborhoods in Manhattan. Amanda and I were in the same homeroom in seventh grade, and she helped me get to class and assimilate well to Packer. She was my usual Starbucks buddy; we also saw a few movies together. We were driven to Manhattan by a car service, and when we got to her building tall men in weird uniforms opened the door for all of us. The penthouse apartment she lived in was visually glorious. Everything seemed to have a certain shine to it. My friends in the forgotten NY definitely did not have apartments as big as this. She had marble countertops in her kitchen, and beautiful beige soft carpet in every room of the apartment. Her bedroom itself was bigger than my entire living room and she had gadgets I had only seen in commercials, like two big screen TVS, multiple laptops, DVR, and iPads. However, her parents weren’t home; Amanda explained that they were usually out on business and that Maria, the maid, took care of her most of the time. This was my first experience with a maid; she did a lot of things I usually did for myself. She took our dinner, collected our dinner plates and washed them, made our beds in the morning. When I told Amanda I never had a maid or any of these amazing things, she seemed bewildered. From her unforgettable expression, which seemed stapled on her face, it was clear that even though we lived in the same city, our worlds were vastly different.
Looking back, I am glad that I experienced both “New Yorks” because now it opened my eyes. Both worlds were disregarded by the other; after experiencing each at the same time, it is clear why. Both reserved incredibly negative judgments and don’t have a need or want to understand the other. I saw through classmates the way “TV New York” residents lived, and I didn’t like it. The parents barely knew the kids because they were always working. But it didn’t bother most of the kids because they got to throw parties without getting caught. They spent money frivolously on clothes, coffee and other things they had in abundance, simply because they could. They were superficial, and lived so quickly that they didn’t have time to appreciate the little things in life. In this world I was gawked at until I was introduced as someone’s friend from school. Then everyone was all smiles. In my neighborhood, there was unnecessary violence and too many lost souls, and I didn’t like that either. It puzzles me how I could be both drawn to and repelled by it. No one wants to live around violence like that. It’s incredibly depressing and makes you choose your walks outside wisely. Here I was treated as another girl, expected to be just statistic by age eighteen. All these things made it difficult, but also made it home.
I see myself as one of the bridges between both worlds. I have experienced a great amount of each during my life, even moving between the two worlds within the same day. I would like to serve as an educator for each, and tell about the other about each world that seemed so distant. But the forgotten NY doesn’t want to hear it; it is just a reminder of the privilege they will never have.
When people visit this phenomenal city, I hope they can find their way to a Brooklyn street park of beautiful black children screaming their heads off in fun and the trance of innocence, and understand our neighborhood as well as 5th Avenue. And I hope that others in “Forgotten New York” will record their accounts of their upbringing. The world needs to hear it; we shall not be forgotten anymore.