Children’s Express reporters Osiris Adorno and Chrystal Dunbar interviewed Linda, 17, in this article excerpted from the Children’s Express book, Kids’ Voices Count. They describe Linda as "of Hispanic descent, light-skinned. Her hair was pulled back and she dressed in the regular hip hop clothes that teenagers wear today – baggy pants, nice shirt, earrings."
I’ve lived in Bridgeport all my life. I live on the east side, and that’s, like, the worst part. I live in a condominium complex across the street from the projects. Half the murders in the city of Bridgeport happen within, like, a five-block radius of my house.
I used to get scared at first. I used to be, like, "Oh my God!" and try to run inside and stuff. But it just gets to the point where you just don’t care. I work on a lot of youth groups to try and hopefully solve this problem, but when it’s right in front of you, you gotta just do your best to pretend it’s not happening, ’cause if you get in the middle, you don’t know what’s gonna happen.
A lot of kids think that the only way they can defend themselves or fit in this type of neighborhood, is to act the same and to be like everyone else. If being violent is the only way you’re going to survive, then you’re gonna learn it to survive.
My mother tries to keep me inside all the time, "Oh no, you can’t go out," and dah, dah, dah. It’s a hassle every time I want to leave the house.
I’m stubborn and I don’t care. It could be someone on my street getting shot, and if I want to go out, I’m gonna find a way to go out, because I’m not gonna be stuck inside my house.
The scariest thing that’s ever happened to me was when I was walking home from school one day. Me and my friend tend to miss the bus a lot. One day, neither one of us had enough money for both of us to get on the bus, so we decided to just walk home.
When I walk home I have to walk through a section that’s starting to get almost as bad as where I live. It was, like, 2:30 in the afternoon, and some kid had a gun. He looked like he was maybe 13 or 14 years old. This is two blocks away from my school, one block away from an elementary school.
The guy was with two other people, and he was trying to show off to his friends. And then, when I was walking, he pointed the gun towards me. And I looked over and he was just looking at me. He had the gun pointed and I just kept walking like, "Oh, God, I hope nothing happens."
And all his friends were like, "Don’t point it at her, don’t point it at her. It’s gonna go off, it’s gonna go off."
And I was like, "Oh my God, oh my God." So many thoughts are racing through my head, but my first thought was, "Just keep going and act like nothing’s happening."
But when I got home I cried and I cried and I cried. I was like, "Oh my God, I could have been dead."
Living in my neighborhood has made me angry and resentful. Sometimes I get so upset that I’ll just sit down in my room and start crying. Sometimes I feel like, "Why do I have to live this way?"
And it just made me really resentful of how the government is not really trying to do anything about it. It seems like no one cares. I hate to sound racial about it, but it seems no one cares because it’s happening to blacks and Hispanics. The area that I live in is predominantly black and Hispanic.
Before, when I was younger, I was a little more open-minded, because I used to live in a different part of town where it wasn’t as bad. So I think I was more apt to see the good in everyone.
But now, where I live, it’s made me more narrow-minded. It feels like sometimes I have a chip on my shoulder.
I think the government needs to start working with kids in schools when they’re younger – teach them violence prevention and conflict resolution – not wait until a kid is 16, has been arrested for murder, and then try and rehabilitate him in a juvenile hall or something.
I don’t think that money is just the answer. We need to be innovative and creative to try and get kids off the streets and back in school where they need to be.
We need adults that are responsible – that are accountable to us. I would get a lot of youth participation in how that money’s going to get divvied up, and make sure it goes to agencies that are actually taking the time to listen to the youth.
And I would get more recreation; more teachers and people to give self-esteem classes; centers that are open for kids to go in after dark because there’s nothing else around. I think the kids need to have a place to feel safe. And they need to feel wanted.
The best thing that ever happened to me was having my mom’s support. And just having the life that I have. I mean, it’s bad and everything, and sometimes I wish I didn’t have it, but it’s made me the person that I am. It’s made me become more aware of what’s going on around me.