OP-ED: Oakland Youth is A Survivor: ”A Rose that Grew from Concrete”


By Joi Smith, Laney College student


In my community, it is hard to make friends, but losing them is easy. I look out for those I love and care about, but in my inconsistency, I tend to give up on friendships as they begin to part.




I’m from East Oakland where homicide rates will make you not want to walk the streets alone, but, like my faith, even a gunshot couldn’t stop me.


Joi Smith
Joi Smith

I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was a long night of dancing and laughs on the block where I grew up. Two friends of mine had just gotten out of jail, so they were too elated. But they were more than friends – these two boys were like my brothers.


Typical of them, they started to play fight with me. Who knew this horse playing would turn into me risking my life.


I remember getting up off the ground ready to charge at them because they were playing entirely too much. I was thinking, here were my real friends?


Everyone thought it was funny that I had gotten so mad. But for me, laughing was the last thing on my mind. I was feeling overpowered. So I turned to my typical activity every week: fighting.


As soon as I began to call everyone out, people started telling me I was “trippin’.” I’m pretty sure I knew almost every single person standing on the corner, but it was so dark and all the black hoodies blinded me.


I heard someone call out, “Aye lil’ mama you trippin’ – you wanna hit the weed?”


My response was so intense that they wanted to take my life. Next thing you know, we heard back-to-back gunshots, and everyone scattered. I guess I believed that I was bullet proof because I was still in the middle of the street, talking crazy to someone that could have been my murderer.

I kept reminding him that he was in my territory.


My mom would have been very disappointed if she knew how “down” I was for my crew. One fight, we all fight. You have a problem with one, you have a problem with us all; that’s just how we were.


Losing three of the people I grew up with to gun violence was a wake-up call for me because I finally realized that the people close to me were slowly losing their lives. I know for me personally, God has been walking in my shadow my whole 16 years because I’m still here.


Like Tupac’s “rose that grew from the concrete,” I may have missing petals and broken stems, but I continue to grow daily. And let’s be realistic, you wouldn’t expect a rose to grow from concrete.


My life has shifted dramatically. I try my hardest to avoid gangs or situations that I know will be a bad influence. My mornings are less stressful, and I’m more motivated to get up, go to school, and move forward with my future goals.


I try to smile more. All I can do is be thankful for my growth and future success.



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