by Ashley Hook ’11
People think a lot about West Philadelphia teenage girls. I was exposed to some of the negative things but at some point I made the decision to be better and different. I knew that I did not want to just be another statistic unless it was a statistic about success.
I started high school not really knowing which way to turn because it was a new environment for me. The school was full of new people, more drama than before, and the building was more spacious. My ninth and tenth grade years could have possibly been my worse years of high school. I cut class, I did not do homework and my attendance was horrible. I knew I had the potential to do great, but I was so immersed into trying to understand what my plan was in life, that I became completely apathetic about school.
I knew that the road I was heading down was not the road to success, so that is when I knew that it was time for a change. I had already been through the long lectures and speeches from both my parents and teachers. All they ever said was, “Ashley you are so smart, why are you doing this to yourself?” “You will regret this in the future”.
Growing up seeing how my mother struggled with us made me reflect on what my mother was saying to me. My mother is an ex drug addict. My mother dropped out of high school because she was pregnant with my sister. She barely worked because of her lack of knowledge. My grandparents took care of my siblings and I. It got to the point that when I needed help with my homework that she couldn’t even help me. She had to take classes as an adult to learn how to read and learn basic math.
Eleventh grade year came, and I started off pretty well, I only did not do well in one class. As the year progressed, I began to have struggles at home that had my mind going in circles. There was no way, I could focus in school. Here I was again, stuck between a rock and a hard place. How could I possibly start doing wrong again? I started feeling disappointed in myself as a person. After experiencing so much self doubt, I began to lose faith. I started to believe life was even more pointless than before. Then there came “Leaders of Change.”
Leaders of Change was a summer job for upcoming seniors at University City High School. Employees participated in activities to explore, and dig into ourselves. One activity that caught my attention was when I “broke through my barriers.” I wrote on both sides of a plank of wood with a marker; on one side of the wood was a goal that I wanted to reach in my life and on the other side of the wood was my “barrier” what was stopping me from reaching my goal. My goal is to become a psychiatrist and my barrier is fear of failure. I set the plank of wood on a few crates and the side I wrote my barrier on was facing up and I had to “karate chop” the barrier to let myself know that I was not going to let this stop me anymore. This activity was meaningful to me because it was a time that I stop letting things get in my way of who I really am and who I want to be.
Being in Leaders of Change also showed me how to be a change agent in my community. Leaders of Change let me know that my voice could be heard even though I was a young black girl. We had to pick an issue that really impacted us in our community, which was gun violence. To gather information on the issue we had to do interviews, and conduct surveys. Additionally, we developed a recommendation that we would like to carry out to inform youth about gun violence, which we also informed fellow employees and community members at a presentation and roundtable event at the end of the summer. We learned that change doesn’t happen in a day. We thought that teaching younger generations would be a good start to our future.
It may have taken me quite some time to mature, but I am happy with who I am. I can now say that I am a proud teen ready to start a new path. I am going to make the best of my senior year and now this is my time to shine. I now know that things will not be given to me easily, and I have to work for what I want. Being in Leaders of Change helped me realize that I will face many barriers but you have to break through them to get what you want. I have stepped out of my comfort zone; and now it’s time to make the most of every minute because I have grown. I am more focused than before, I attend school everyday and I am stronger than I have ever been.