Firsthand: Asha Cunningham

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During the day, I like the sounds of Brownsville. I hear the children outside playing jump rope or tag, or the guys on the corner hanging out, calling to girls. But at night, Brownsville changes. I hear the loud reggae music, because they keep nothing but parties across the street. And I hear couples fighting and cursing. It is really horrible to see ladies getting beat before my eyes. Me, with my nosy self, looking out the window, and my mother telling me to get out of the window before they want to hurt me, too.

My mother does not trust anyone from my neighborhood, not since one of my good friends died. My friend was at home with her cousin and he took out a gun to show her how to work it. His finger accidentally caught the trigger, and the bullet caught her. She died. I could not believe it. I thought, “What was he doing with a gun anyway? That bullet was not for her! She was not supposed to get shot.”

So that’s why my mother questions everything I do. She has banned me from going to a store across the street from my house. She thinks they sell weed. She also wouldn’t let me go to the neighborhood schools. I’m a senior at the Museum School in Manhattan.

My mother thinks Brownsville is not showing me good qualities. I think most people here just have difficult lives, and children act upon what they see. Still, it upsets me to see how some of the people in my neighborhood act, because the way they show themselves makes some people look at black people differently. Just the other day, I heard this lady saying, “Look at how the black people in the ghetto live–smoking weed, drinking, and getting no education.”

But there is more to Brownsville than the ghetto. My mom is an educated black woman–she’s a nurse–and there are many people like her in Brownsville, too. So I listen to my family, not my neighborhood. My uncle is always saying I should not play with my education. I tell him that I will not be one of those teenagers who just wants to have sex, fight, get knocked up and do drugs. And my mother always says, “No, you won’t, because you would be out of my house.” And I believe her.