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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Keepin’ It Professional
Desmin Braxton

I got off the elevator feeling hyped and energized, my music turned up to the max. I made my way to my desk at the Represent office where I work as a writer. My music was blasting so that everyone would know what I was listening to. My pants were sagging, my beads all out. I wanted to look like a fly guy from the hood who was talented and confident. I wanted everyone to see me as a working man.

People were staring and looking intimidated. After I got to my computer and started working, my editor asked me to turn down my music player because other people couldn’t concentrate. I did turn it down a little, but I got into a song and I started rapping it. I said out loud, “Wild out, hit with a bottle, stomp his motherf-ckin’ light out, wild out wild out, hands on deck, make a n-gger pull the tool out…”

Soon, one of the editors told me to chill out. (At the magazine, the editors are your supervisors.) Then one of my coworkers said to me in a disgusted way, “That’s SO unprofessional.”

I thought to myself, “Why she even saying anything?” It made me felt ignorant, like what I was doing was dumb. It felt like she was trying to embarrass me. It bothered me that she said I wasn’t professional because I’d been working there longer than she had. I’d never had someone say that what I do at work is not professional.

So I caught a little tantrum and started mumbling some cruel words underneath my breath about her. After that day, I would get angry when I saw her. Once she said, “You a clown!” She seemed like she was half-joking, but it still offended me. I felt like she was calling me out my name and trying to degrade me.

This girl didn’t know me, and I didn’t know her. She was judging me just because of the way I acted. But working at my internship on Represent is supposed to be my comfort zone, where I get away from people judging me, and from negative energy. It’s a place where I can relax. She broke my comfort zone by judging me and bringing negative energy toward me.

Rethinking My Look

I thought about the incident for a few days. It was still bothering me, but I started to realize that this girl was at least partly right: I had been unprofessional lately at the Represent office.

My job meant a lot to me. I’d been working there for two years. I had accomplished a lot, published several stories, and greatly improved my writing. Also, it gave me a voice to be heard as a youth. When I’m at school, home, or in the street, the majority of people don’t listen to me. That’s why I came to Represent, to get my voice out. I didn’t want to lose that.

image by YC-Art Dept

I decided part of what was making me unprofessional was the way I dressed and the way I came in to work. I can’t walk into the office with my pants sagging so much that you can see what I’m wearing underneath. Bringing my music to work and playing the music loud was breaking my coworkers’ concentration.

I don’t know how people feel about my colors when I’ve got my beads all out, if they think I’m a gang member ready to bring the street mentality to work. Some gang members do wear beads to show their gang loyalty, but I wear them because they mean something spiritual. But I realized I didn’t need to do it at work, and that rapping out lyrics on the job might offend some people.

My editor had told me that the office was supposed to be a comfortable, safe place, and that’s what I wanted it to be for me. But I began to notice that I wasn’t making it a comfortable, safe place for some of the other people. This made me feel disappointed in myself because it wasn’t professional. I decided I needed to change.

Drop the Street Mentality

I knew changing would be hard because I was a street person with a street mentality. But on the other hand, I had a professional job, and I was taking some street traits with me to work. There’s a time and a place for both. In the street you can’t walk around looking soft and wearing suits or you’ll look like an easy target for a crime. That’s why you must blend with the street.

But at work you can’t dress flashy or with too many colors. When you’re at work you’ve got to move a certain way. No slang or cursing—every word you use is supposed to be proper English. In the street it’s different. The street mentality is that if you get stared at, you stare back. Then words get exchanged and it escalates. In work it’s not a big deal if somebody stares at you because you don’t have to worry about anyone challenging you or physically hurting you. You can just go about your business and continue working. If someone says something that you don’t like, you just take it in. You can’t react and jump out of your office character, because it’s not the street.

Now my style has changed at the office. I’m straight professional. I always wear a button-up shirt. I don’t play music that distracts others or myself from my work. I changed the way I react to people to show people the utmost respect, even when they’re getting on my nerves.

The one thing I still need to improve at the office is just minding my business when other people are having a conversation instead of jumping in and making jokes. You never want to make a bad impression where you work. You want your boss and coworkers to see you as a colleague instead of the one who’s just playing.

I’m going to take this experience and practice for the future. If I went to my next job and hadn’t learned these skills, they would fire me for my behavior. You never know where you might get a job and you’ve got to be prepared.

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