Mo’s Story: “I’m scared of the world not changing”

When people describe the South Bronx you often hear phrases like dangerous and gang-ridden, but it’s still shocking when a student like “Mo,” an eternally positive junior from Mott Hall High School, so casually describes the ongoing violence in his neighborhood.

“I live in the projects and I hear shootouts, but that’s normal – most communities in the South Bronx have them,” said Mo. “People fight over the most illogical things, like someone took their bag or someone looked at them the wrong way. Stupid stuff.”

It’s a situation that would be unimaginable in most places across the US. However, for students in under-resourced communities like South and West Chicago, Northeast Detroit, and the nation’s poorest congressional district, the South Bronx, it is merely an everyday reality. When Mo was a freshman one of his older brother’s friends, a boy Mo looked up to, was shot and killed while leaving a party. But this time, the news felt different, it felt personal.

“I was stunned when I heard the news. He was part of a crew and there was someone at the party who disliked him, so they shot him. I mean, you see it all the time, but it’s something different when it’s someone that you know,” said Mo.

But when many might teens turn to gangs for retaliation, or for protection, Mo wasn’t interested. He wanted to try something new, and in his words, “break out of the bubble” he was living in. That’s when he tried buildOn.

His first time doing community service, he prepared and served meals to individuals living with AIDS/HIV at a local hospice. He says that he expected to meet people who looked sad and weak, but was surprised when the people he met were full of life. They were happy and grateful, even in the face of their struggles. Mo loved hearing their stories, and sharing his own. Since that day first day, Mo has gone to the hospice every Wednesday afternoon, and now all the residents now know him by name.

“When I go and do service, I see myself improving the world – one heart at a time. People feel so happy and they have some much love in their hearts for us when we come out to do service; they appreciate everything we do,” said Mo. “Through this I learned to appreciate more of myself, to appreciate what people can do, what humans can do to help another human.”

Even though the obstacles Mo faces in the South Bronx are difficult, he found the strength within himself to rise above it all.

“For me to be a part of something that makes a difference…I have to do it I’m grateful that the buildOn program has allowed me to go through this and walk this journey, without them I think I would be lost,” said Mo. “I’ve been approached by gangs, but I see myself as the opposition. I don’t see the need to join a gang, I would rather be a part of a movement. If you want to be in a gang, join a gang that’s going to make a difference in the world. Make a gang that’s going to help people out. Why harm when you can help?”