Sometimes we start hard, sometimes we deal with poverty and broken homes. But I believe we can grow to become who we want to be. I believe we can become our dreams.
When I was young, I was in the foster care system, and that was hard. I bounced around a lot. My sister and my brother and I were sent to different places. When you’re separated from your family like that, it hurts. I don’t want anybody to feel that feeling.
By the 10th grade things started to get better for me. I was starting a new year at a new school in the Bronx, and I made some friends who brought me to service with buildOn. My first project was spending time with the elderly at a senior center. I didn’t think it was going to be fun, but it really was. I liked meeting the seniors and other students. So I kept going, and understanding more about my community, about the struggles of people in the Bronx. Service just caught my eye, and now I’m really hooked.
A favorite and important service project I did with buildOn was on Martin Luther King Day last year. We chose quotes from MLK’s speech and we talked with police officers and community members about what King’s dream means to us. A big issue in the Bronx is the relationship with police. I’ve been stopped by police myself. Sometimes its for walking through a certain area of town known for drug dealing, sometimes it’s for being in a large group of friends because the cops think we are a gang or are going to start fights. Then there’s the school to prison pipeline. Students drop out because they feel they’re treated like criminals in school. As a kid, you don’t think you can do much, you think cops won’t listen to you.
So at this MLK Day service, the simple question was: “Would the cops listen?”
By talking with the police and the people in the neighborhood, I learned there’s so much we can do together, and it was so meaningful. I thought, “Maybe I could keep doing this, because it’s not only me serving the community, it’s other people, too. If I keep doing what I am doing, everybody can understand and unite and it will help create a bigger impact.” I was also reminded that cops are human, just like all of us, and they have families, too.
As for my family, we are back together now. We live with our mom and family is everything to me. I know there are other kids that struggle with real pressures, and I want to give them something good. I have a cousin who got locked up for dealing, and when you grow up seeing that, you think you need to be a part of it. But I decided I wanted to have good high school years, and good college years.
I want the same for other kids. When I do service with buildOn, like when we tutor little kids at the library, I know some of them are going through stuff like I did. I want to help them, help them not to feel like I did. I realized that as part of buildOn I can help others in this way.
That’s why I not only serve with buildOn, I also help recruit other buildOn students. Last year I recruited 15 kids, this year I lost count. When you try to influence someone and then they try something something, it feels great. I never expected myself to be big, I never expected myself to be a leader, but I went to service once and now here I am. When I am in college and when I am older, I can keep this standard. When I have children, I will help them and use what I learned from serving others to be a good father. I will become who I want to be. I will become my dreams.
Christopher Espinal is a 12th Grader at the School for Law, Government and Justice in the South Bronx, NYC. He has given more than 240 hours of service to his community since joining buildOn, including building a school in Haiti. He will be starting college next year.