I grew up in walking distance of the infamous Cabrini Green Housing project in Chicago. My housing complex resembled The Carters from the movie New Jack City and those who would visit or come to pick me up would often joke about the neighborhood. I wasn’t ashamed then and I’m still not now. I learned so much growing up in that area. And I developed an understanding about life, goals and dreams that I don’t think I would have had I not grown up there.
Survival, being aware and living with limited resources were all takeaways from my childhood. Although I may not have appreciated them way back then, I sure have been grateful for them at certain points in my life.
In addition to what I mentioned above, I also learned a thing or two about love. My idea of love and relationships were challenged quite frequently. I always wanted the fairly tales I saw in the movies when I was a teen. You fell in love with a boy, he loved you back, you got married and you went on happily from there. But the reality was, relationships didn’t seem to last forever and you had to be prepared. Another reality was the person you had children with didn’t have to be your spouse. Unfortunately, there weren’t many marriages in my neighborhood. Single mothers were heroes. When Father’s Day rolled around, we found ourselves celebrating the mothers who played both roles. They held it down and made us feel like men were just optional. The men weren’t as present and two-parent households were dang near obsolete. We were a tight knit community, there was love, but solid relationships were rare.
Had I believed what I saw, I would be in a very different place today. The hood taught me a few things that I am grateful to have learned along the way. Here are a few hood lessons that traveled with me into adulthood:
- Children do need two parents actively involved in their lives. My entire circle of childhood friends grew up with just our moms in the home. That consistent male role model makes a world of difference in a child’s life. Girls learn the type of guy to bring home by observing their dads. Boys, of course, learn the essentials of manhood from their fathers. I learned that men are absolutely necessary in the home as well as in a community.
- It’s okay to stay and fight for your marriage. There were broken families all around us. It seemed easy to walk away and there wasn’t a high expectation for our relationships to work out. No one held the other accountable for building stronger families. I learned that we could have used that sense of community to encourage each other in love and relationships. The elders looked out for the children and told our parents when we did something wrong, but no one ever told that straying husband to go back home to his wife and family.
- Healthy marriages aren’t a novel idea. They actually do exist. All over this world with people who look just like us. I wish more of us knew this when we were coming up. Some may have thought it was only something you see on TV, but it’s real. I know that now.
- When you do love, love hard. Those relationships that did last, lasted because those couples loved hard. They sacrificed and gave everything they had to their relationship. There’s really no other way to love, in my opinion.
I am stronger as a result of my neighborhood. I love the people I grew up with and the memories will stay with me forever. There were great times and challenging times that made me appreciate what I have today. I am so grateful to have learned these powerful love lessons.
BMWK, what have you learned about love from your childhood?
like what you're reading?