The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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I Identify with Tupac
Desmin Braxton

I first started listening to Tupac Shakur when I was 9 years old. I feel like he and I had so much in common. We went through similar struggles and we both lived in Harlem and the Bronx; I still live in the Bronx. Some people even say I look like Tupac. I see it in the eyes and nose.

Growing up was hard for both Tupac and me because of the crack epidemic. I’m younger than he was, but both of our moms became addicted to the drug. In Tupac’s song Dear Mama he talks about his mother’s addiction and how she struggled to do her best to provide for her kids:

...even as a crack fiend, mama
You always was a black queen, mama
I finally understand
For a woman it ain’t easy tryin’ to raise a man

My mom tries to be there and provide, but her addiction gets the best of her. After his mom started doing drugs, Pac was forced into the street. He needed to make money so he started selling drugs. I took a similar path when I moved in with my grandmother and wanted to help her out with the bills and food.

Writing Our Lives

Tupac used poetry and rap to write about his life and to express himself. I do the same thing when I write essays for this magazine. I’ve written about my mom and how drug addiction prevented her from being a caring mother, my grandmother who passed who meant the world to me, and other stories about my life on the street. Writing these stories helped me learn from my mistakes and release stress. I hope they inspire readers to do better in life and make smarter decisions. Also, I hope my stories show them other people are going through the same problems they are.
Tupac’s song The Good Die Young reminds me of a story I wrote about how I had sex while I was drunk and got a girl pregnant.

A woman’s tryin’ to make decisions
We should leave them a choice
Cause who are we to say who lives and die
Breathes and stops
All this judgment on other lives
Needs to stop

He’s saying as men who are we to tell a women to have or not to have an abortion? Here I disagree with Tupac. When I was going through that situation I couldn’t look at it as her decision alone. I wasn’t financially prepared or wise enough to be a fit parent. I was barely handling my own life problems, so how could I be responsible for a baby? It was scary for me.

The girl wanted a baby, but she didn’t seem to have a clue about the emotional and financial responsibility that came with it. When she said, “Dee, I’m pregnant,” I said: “You can’t keep it because we’re too young. I’m not ready to have kids yet.”

image by YC-Art Dept

“I understand. I don’t think we’re ready to have a baby either,” she agreed.

Respect Women

Tupac’s right when he says as men we need to break the cycle of disrespecting women so the next generation doesn’t follow and do the same. I remember when I was a little boy I saw a guy on my block knock a girl down. She started cursing and yelling. “You bum, I can’t stand you!” She was holding money in her hand.

The guy snatched the money. “How you trying to steal my money? You bugging,” he told her. “Go home, witch.”

She tried to take the money back from him and he backhanded her across the face. That made me feel bad for her.

I think a lot of men disrespect females because it makes them feel more powerful when they feel weak. One day at school, I saw an African boy getting bullied. He wanted people to talk about something else, so he called out a girl during class. “A yo girl why you got half and half colored hair? You look like you half lemon and half ice tea.” I knew he was trying to big himself up by putting the girl down.

Men learn this as young boys growing up with older males in their household and neighborhoods and what they see and hear in the media, especially from other rappers. But Tupac tried to change that way of thinking.

I still listen to Tupac. His music reminds me of the struggles that we go through today in society as black people, and how easy it is for us to be targets and to be stereotyped as uncivilized animals.

His music inspires me to make changes in myself, so I don’t become another statistic. I believe Tupac and I have a lot of similarities, but the big difference between us is he embraced the hood mentality and kept the hood around him. Even though I’m from the hood I know I can’t better myself when I’m surrounded by that negativity. So I’ve changed the way I move and the way I act to become successful.

I speak better now; I don’t talk slang. You can’t get a job by walking into an interview saying, “Yo, what’s up with the job, bruh?” I hang around people who want to do something with their lives. Since I’ve left the streets, I’ve enrolled in a GED program and started working at a restaurant. I have also made progress to earn my security license, Ocher (construction license), CDL (Commercial Driver license,) and driver’s license. In the future I plan to have my own medical supply company and my own restaurant. And finally, maybe I’ll publish my own book (but that’s a secret for now).

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