The New York Times's City Section this past Sunday had a special focus on seventeen-year-old New Yorkers. According to the paper, more children were born in 1990 than at any point since the Baby Boom. Now they're on the cusp of adulthood and the Times has a series of oral histories that one can read or listen to online. It's an interesting project; here are a few of the teens:
- Neil Allicock lives in East New York. Although he was born in the United States, he spent several years growing up in Guyana, where his parents are from. Sometimes he wishes he could live in an actual house, like the ones his relatives in Guyana inhabit, instead of a small Brooklyn apartment. Allicock says that his parents and family are a rock upon which he depends. Somewhat alienated from his environment, he is a young man determined to make something of himself, unlike many of his peers who he feels are content to be blown through life without a clear purpose.
- Sarah Mohess of Jamaica, Queens was in and out of foster homes before she ran away to Philadelphia and enrolled herself in a school there, which is difficult to do without a legal guardian. "Who did it? Me, myself and I. I pretended to be my grandmother." Mohess is back in New York now, struggling to finish high school. Although she is part of an anti-gang youth initiative, she remembers her days in the Bloods fondly and speaks highly of organizations like gangs that provide social structure and mentoring to young people who may have few other opportunities for guidance. She speaks from experience.
- Katherine Pak lives in Riverdale in the Bronx, but goes to school at Brearley on Manhattan's Upper East Side. As a financial aid student at the school, Pak initially found the disparity in family wealth between her and some of her classmates daunting. When she first started at Brearley, someone had to explain what a summer home was to her. Like many teenagers, however, Pak's primary worries are keeping her grades up and getting into a good college. Also, the absence of boys at the all-girls Brearley is a source of constant frustration. "We’re always talking about how we all want to have boyfriends, and how we have so much love to give but no one to give it to."
- David Helene grew up in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn and is a "lifer" at Packer, the school he's attended since he was three years old. He's a cosmopolitan kid and describes himself--like all his friends--as liberal, but concedes that it's a mindset he came to by default and is intent on reading more newspapers when he's not studying, playing sports, or hanging out with his friends. Still, the farther Helene observes beyond Packer and Cobble Hill, the more extreme the world seems. The students at Berkeley Carroll in Park Slope are cocky and drink a lot more than Packer kids. "Culturewise, the Upper East Side, or the Brearleys of the world, those kids do a lot of drugs. They do drugs that kids from Packer, where I go, don’t touch. Like heroin." Helene appreciates the hip-hop culture and slang that his friends are into, but he is a man with limits. "They were like, 'That’s dumb stupid.' I’m like, 'That’s redundant.'"
Almost all of the 17-year-olds' stories make for interesting reading.