“I have always heard the South Bronx was the worst place to live in New York City,” Shadie Lattimore explains. “Whenever I would tell people I lived there, they would scrunch their faces and rudely say, ‘Wow, you’re from there?’”
This Bronx Leadership Academy junior describes her time in high school in the South Bronx as a “rollercoaster ride.” While handing out donated books to community members at a Saturday buildOn book drive, Shadie admits that she is just now returning to serving with buildOn. Personal battles with drugs and depression forced her to leave buildOn programming during her freshman year.
“I come to buildOn service because it makes me feel better about myself and it helps me inspire others,” Shadie says. “It would make my heart burst if I knew that I inspired someone that has been in my same situation!”
With her infectious smile, Shadie read through many books with children on a recent weekend at Claremont Park in New York City. Her positive energy radiated as she walked around the park chatting with community members about service and reading. With her confidence and outgoing personality, one would never know about her past struggles.
Shadie was raised in the South Bronx, where she was surrounded by drugs from a very young age. In middle school, she battled with self-harm and explained that smoking marijuana was her escape. Growing up, she watched as her family members fell victim to drugs and when she encountered her own problems, she felt like none of them were there for her to lean on.
“I felt worthless,” she recalled. “When I started failing my classes freshman year, I turned to drugs, stopped going to class, and stopped speaking to my mother about my life. Nothing about living in the Bronx inspired me. The constant shootings in my neighborhood and the drug culture never lifted me up.”
It was not until the end of her sophomore year, while taking the New York Regents Examination, that Shadie had a revelation about her situation. She recalled struggling with a fairly easy algebra problem and she instinctively said to herself, “Girl, you have got to get it together. No one is going to do anything for you, you have to own up and do it.”
Shadie is now taking her happiness into her own hands and positively affecting many others today. Remember buildOn as a positive presence in her life, she started regularly attending buildOn service and already committed to making service projects a priority this Fall. She also hopes to join a buildOn Trek to a developing country, so she can spread literacy beyond the Bronx.
“Service makes me believe in myself and makes me believe in my city. I am incredibly proud to be from the Bronx and I am proud knowing that I can make a difference for other Bronx youth.” Shadie states. “My story proves that if you believe in yourself, trust your instincts and have faith, there is always a way to get better”
The future is looking bright for Shadie as she is starting her junior year off on the right foot. Her grades have never been better and she credits that to her involvement with positive activities like buildOn. She hopes to someday attend law school and return to the Bronx to fight for her community as a lawyer.
As for the judgement Shadie received for being from the Bronx? Her actions have proven that you can always grow from your past and that you can find inspiration through service anywhere, especially in the Bronx.
“We are not defined by our city,” she says. ”We are defined by what we do to make our cities better.”