I'm not sure how many of you are familiar with the Jane-Finch area of Metropolitan Toronto, but lots of people I have met have misconceptions about the area.
They will not walk through the area, especially at night. They are afraid of being mugged, or even murdered.
I would like to talk about growing up in that area.
My family lived in a low income Metro Housing unit. I remember seeing the older teenagers hanging out around the basketball courts, smoking, drinking, and listening to music. They were considered the tough guys. Nobody bothered them. We were afraid of them.
A lot of us wanted to be like them. As my friends and I grew older, we began hanging out in the corridor and the hallways when it was cold and raining.
None of us would invite our friends over to our houses. And as I think about that now, I feel it was because we were all embarrassed. Our homes weren't fancy, the little furniture we did have didn't match, usually there were lots of arguments and fights going on at home.
I was lucky though, I had a very strong family unit. Sure we had our fights, but I knew that they would support me and stick by me and that I was loved. I had a big sense of security at home.
At this point our group of friends were slowly dividing into smaller groups. There were the "Rockers", the "Rappers", things like that.
Throughout Junior High School, lots of them started experimenting with drinking and smoking.
At this time I was having lots of problems. I was sexually molested by someone in my family, and I was having a hard time dealing with it. I had gone to a teacher for support with my problem. He said, there are to sides to it and you both enjoyed it.
I had wanted to kill myself and had actually tried. I had no self respect for myself, I felt that it was my fault that it had happened. I didn't get any support from my teachers, or my friends. And because it was a family member, I wouldn't go to my family for support.
At that time a friend of mine confided in me that she had been raped by her uncle. We went to the guidance counsellor for help. She would not believe her and refused to do anything about it. If we couldn't turn to our teachers for help, who could we turn to? Everyone needs someone they can trust and talk to. We didn't have anyone, so we began drinking heavily, and experimenting with drugs to escape from our problems.
One of my best friends ran away and became a prostitute to supply her drug habit. She ended up in jail many times and to my knowledge, she is still there. My other best friend also ran away and I lost track of her, but I also knew she was heavily into drugs too. Both of them had a very difficult home life. They were both physically and emotionally abused. They had no sense of security at home.
At this point in my life I was very vulnerable, not only did I have to deal with being molested, but I also found out that my father was a psychopath and was being put away for 22 years. I had never known him, but my family unit was shattered so I turned to my friends for support.
I became involved with a boy who also had an unsteady family life. He was continually in and out of jail, group homes, detention centres, for crimes ranging from B&E's to assault to car thefts.
I stayed with him for over a year, and although he was continually in trouble, I knew that he was a good person inside. He was the only on of my friends really that helped me through this hard time, by listening to me, supporting me, and I helped him stay out of trouble, and make something of his life.
I also started seeing a counsellor once a week, at a local youth clinic at this time, it was the smartest thing I did. The youth clinic is such an important service, especially in Jane-Finch, where there are so many people that have no self respect, no self esteem, and they don't have the people to talk to, and get the support from.
By going there and talking out my problems, my self esteem was restored and my family supported me. I decided to go to a different high school than my friends at this time. I felt I needed to expand. I went to a high academic school in a high income community. The kids were a lot better off financially there, some of them even drove better cars than their teachers.
But, I found that the kids there were the same as the kids in Jane-Finch.
They drank, they smoked, they also did drugs. Lots of them had the money to do even heavier drugs than you find in Jane-Finch. The teachers didn't seem to care that they did the drugs at the school, as long as they didn't disrupt their classes. They hung out in the same types of places did the same kind of things; some kids even had criminal records such as extortion.
I feel that living in Jane-Finch area and growing up there is basically the same as anywhere else. You tend to face similar problems no matter where they group up.
I could have grown up in North Toronto, Rosedale, but I still would have had to face the same problems and had to deal with them. But because I had complete support and an openness with my family, I was able to overcome my problems. If you don't have that you'll turn elsewhere, and its' so easy to become involved with the wrong people or crowd. There are so many drug dealers, abusers, alcohol abusers, and criminals out there. They are not only in Jane-Finch, you can find them anywhere and everywhere.
I graduated from grade 12 and went on to work at a child care centre for 9 months. I've always enjoyed working with children. Teaching them, watching them grow and experience new things, and helping them with their problems. It's always fascinated me how even the slightest problem in the family can emotionally upset a child as young as even one or two years old.
I now work at a different child care centre, it isn't located in the Jane-Finch area or cater to the Jane-Finch community, but these children and all children will face similar problems while growing up. And unless the parents and people in their lives play an active role by supporting them, giving them a sense of openness and communication, they might just end up like one of my best friends or worse.
Sure my family grew up in the Jane-Finch area but my mother is a community health worker, my sister is entering her third year of university studying psychology, my brother plans to attend university to study archaeology, and I've been working in the child care field for over two years.
So, you see its not really a matter of where you grow, but its how you've been brought up.