Growing Up Kareem; Wanting People to See Me

(Guest Post form Karim Garcia, an Oakland public school student and Energy Convertors)

Growing up was hard, tough. I was born at Kaiser in downtown Oakland. I lived in a duplex with my parents and my brothers. My extended family lived in the same duplex. Well, that didn’t last long.

We eventually left that place and moved to a shelter. In that shelter, we had rules like we couldn’t go there at a particular time because other people have to live there too, so the plan was to keep my brother and me at daycare and wait for our parents to come and pick us up and come home.

For six months we had to watch our backs in the shelter because there were thieves in there. When we saved enough money, we moved to San Leandro, and that’s when stuff went down the drain as my mom and dad got divorced. My father was still around though. It had an impact on me; I was five years old when that happened. We had to move because we struggled with money constantly. I would eventually end up in Oakland, and then things took an even darker turn.

A Darker Turn in Oakland; Trying to Numb the Pain

My brother was murdered when I was seven.

With the death of my brother and my parents’ divorce, I grew angry. I started acting out in middle school. I got into fights, stopped caring about grades, it was terrible. There were Fs all over those report cards. I remember one year I got into five fights and I smoked weed damn near daily. I thought the fights, the weed, the skipping class, all of it; would make me feel better. I thought it would make me hurt less. I figured I could sell a little weed and put some money in my pocket. None of those things made me happy. I was still hurting.

In the 8th grade, I realized none of these things were helping. I tried to straighten up. There had to be another way, right? I didn’t completely stop every bad thing I did, but I was working on being a better person who made better decisions. I stopped skipping class. I stopped getting into fights. I cared more about my grades. I got my straight Fs up over a 2.0. That may not be big for you, but there was a lot of work that went into that, so dammit, I’m proud.

The Difference a Teacher Makes

When I entered high school, I got an amazing teacher, Mr. Bey. He introduced me to Energy Convertors. He wanted me to have a place where I could express my feelings and let you all know I am more than what you may see when you first look at me. He felt that my authentic story could make him a better teacher, our school a better place of support and our district something that is responsive to the needs of other Oakland kids like me.

Since I started working with Mr. Bey, I’ve got a job with the middle school campus helping younger students with homework. I also started shooting and editing videos. People are starting to tell me I have talent, like a real talent! I now play sports, and for the first time, I am excited about the future.

I know we usually write about something we want to fix in education or at our school, but I just wanted people to be able to see me. I’m not some zonked out weedhead. I’m not a thug. I’m not going to rob you. I’m just trying to figure it out. So if you’re an educator reading this, or the mayor of Oakland, this is me. This is just the beginning of my story. I started off drowning, but now I’m doing the backstroke. It’s still hard, but I am determined to be great. I’m not sure I make all these changes without the young Black male teacher who saw me for me. Mr. Bey was never afraid of me.

And I know a ton of kids that are just like me. Thank you for reading.

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