“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”
– Timo Cruz’s character in the movie “Coach Carter”
When I was younger I moved to Pennsauken, NJ.
At that point in my life, I’d been fortunate enough before then to have lived in a pretty good neighborhood in the “Philadelphia suburbs” of Willingboro, NJ. This was a big leap for me at the time, coming from Germantown Philadelphia to Willingboro. I was too young to process the change at the time, but it was huge. Probably the equivalent of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air story. Consequently today, Willingboro is a shithole, but in 1990 when I moved there white flight was only 50% or so complete, and most homeowners still cared about their neighborhoods. All the kids on my block where my age, and some of them I’m still good friends with today. These were good kids. Whereas in Philadelphia kids my age would be struggling to decide whether to sell drugs, cut class, or fuck girls, kids in Willingboro were actually normal kids whose biggest problem was which comic book to buy with their $5 allowance. When they met me most of them welcomed me. We played video games, we climbed trees, we talked about girls, we took summer bike adventures to the edge of town, and we went camping with our parents. It was a blissful time now that I look back on it.
Fast-forward about 8 years and a divorce later. Pennsauken was a very different place. The first thing I noticed when moving there with my mother was that the city was divided by a racial line, and we were in the “white side.” So needless to say, we weren’t welcomed with open arms. In fact, our wanna-be Hells Angels biker neighbors across the street from us would fuck with us about every chance they got. The only restaurant in town was an Italian place that was a little friendlier but you got the feeling that, if it came down to it, they’d watch out for their own first before helping one of the few blacks in the neighborhood. Anyway, I got a job at Pizza Hut there and pretty much made a new friend there. Chris. Chris was a Puerto Rican guy from Florida who, like me, felt like an outsider there. Chris had the benefit of having his entire family unit there and in tact, even if his parents didn’t speak English, which something that i’ve never had. So maybe this is why he was able to deflect the bullshit that was about to be a norm in our lives. Right around the time I met Chris, we both also got introduced to other kids in the neighborhood. Kids that were born and raised in Pennsauken. Me being on the “white side” most of the time when we wanted to hang around black kids we’d have to walk about 15 minutes to the “black side.” Now these kids where not like my friends in Willingboro. In fact, they were a complete 180 degree opposite of what I experienced there. They were not into comic books, they were not into reading at all! They smoked weed, cut class, didn’t have part time jobs, hobbies, and just generally didn’t have any plans with their lives past high school. And the thing about *these* kind of people, is for some reason they can smell when someone in their midst is not like them.
When they saw me, heard me speak “white” and listen to me talk about wanting to live in Japan, the internet (which in 1997 was still pretty unknown to us street kids), and listening to rock bands, the instantly jumped on me and started clowning me. Looking back, it was probably their insecurity. I remember the smallest one of the group, who proudly told us he sold drugs, teasing me for having an email address. A fucking email address!! I think now that guy would probably laugh at himself as most people in America, even stupid ass drug dealers, have email addresses. But at that time, these kids had never met a guy like me before. A young black guy who actually was going places with his life. Now by this time, I was about 16 years old and cut. I’ve always been muscular, and I imagine this is the only thing that stopped these guys from whooping my ass on a daily. They knew I didn’t fight, but they didn’t know what I was capable of if I did get a lucky punch in. And most of those guys look like they suffered from malnutrition anyway, so I was easily 20-30 pounds heavier than most of them. The only white kid in our group was just as bad. I think I never saw him stop laughing, because when I came around he’d immediately start clowning me for something. One time I came over his house to fix his computer, something that he laughed at me for knowing how to do, but his mom paid me to do for him. I was listening to one of Pearl Jam’s greatest albums “Yield” and specifically a track called “Do the Evolution.” In the beginning of the track, Eddie Vedder lets out a really loud howl, as to set the tone for the nature of this great song. Well, I had taken off my headphones right at the time of the yell, and the white guy and the short drug dealer guy, who was there probably because he had nothing else better to do, heard it. They said “WTF was that? What are you listening to Corey?” and they proceeded to clown me the whole time I fixed his PC, for not being black, for listening to rock, etc. And this is coming from a white guy! LOL. Twilight Zone indeed.
Looking back on it, I think it was inevitable. Any time you put someone like me around people like that, meaning someone who has hope mixed in with the hopeless, you’ll have the latter pushing around the former. How dare you come into our lives with hope! I feel sorry but I couldn’t help it. I was going places and I couldn’t hide it. I had ideas and goals and I couldn’t hide them. And they would take every chance they got to shoot them down. Luckily I’ve always been a hard-headed guy, and never would listen to anyone but myself.
For some reason, I’ve run into these kind of people my whole life. In fact, I’d say ever since I left Willingboro and my friends there, I’ve run into “Pennsauken” kind of people about 90% of the time, whether that be at work or in my personal life. Whether that be the US, Japan or Germany. People, no matter what color or nationality, when they see a light in someone, for some reason they naturally want to extinguish it. They want to silence it, because in that light in you, they see the darkness in themselves. This is something I’ve struggled to understand my whole life, because that’s so different from me and the way I was raised. Now I’ve just learned to accept it, and when it shows itself in people, co-workers, girls, or anybody, I immediately distance myself from this way of thinking because it’s destructive. The few times I met people that I actually shared common interests with and a unspoken connection with, I’ve become instant friends with them. That’s why I can count the “true” friends in my life probably on one hand.