Written by: Sergio Tavarez
“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” – Mother Teresa
I was just coming out of my friend’s house in Washington Heights to go to my house located on 192nd. It was the afternoon and I was exhausted from being at the park. I saw a homeless man and wanted to help him out. I gave him all I had, which was $1.50, all in quarters. I handed him the quarters and he told me, “God bless you and may he be with you forever”. I stood there with sadness not because he was homeless, but how nice he sounded as a person. Since I was young, I knew he would talk to me and tell me I have the potential to become a better person. “You’re a young man and have the power to be whatever you want”. I’ve heard those words before.
Washington Heights, located on northern west side of Manhattan, is just that place Dominicans were. Every day, except rainy or snowy days, I would go to the park on 189th. To me, that park unites us kids to enjoy ourselves. The park would be filled with kids and adults either playing ball or just hanging out talking to friends on the benches. On the courts, all you would hear is someone yelling, “Got next!” Or, you would see kids on the swings enjoying the beautiful day. Everybody would leave until the sun was gone. To most, like me, that park is our childhood.
In his childhood, he lived in Harlem with just his mother and 2 brothers. He was the youngest one which made me wonder why he turned out the way he is. When you’re the youngest sibling, you should be motivated from what your older siblings say or do. He was a good kid in Elementary and Middle school and somewhat of his beginning high school years. Things started to change for him once he got to 10th grade. He became a whole different person.
You never know what to expect at night in Washington Heights. Some nights are good and some are bad. The one thing that connects us is the music. Bachata and merengue. It makes us Dominicans bring out that side of us. In parties, bachata and merengue is what we mostly play. with families dancing, having a good time, and enjoying themselves. The party could last hours ‘til the sun rises and we would never know what time it is.
My little sister, Melina, and I have always had a strong bond. At times we fight and have disagreements but at the end of the day, she is one of the very few people I have in my life along with my parents. Even though I am the older sibling, and have to take leadership, I sometimes think she is the older sibling. When my mom is not home, she would be the one to cook. Or she would be the one to do laundry. As a role model, all I can do is to not mess up my life and teach her ways to avoid the negative things in life.
Joining a gang can lead to bigger problems in your life. Growing up in the Heights and the Bronx, it’s all around me. In the Heights, the school across from where I lived has gangs. In the Bronx, the corner of my block has gangs. I may know gang members, but never was I dumb enough to join one. Not only does it ruins yourself as a person but you also lose all the dreams and hopes you desire. I never understood why people always want to kill each other. What is it that makes you want to kill someone else? These are just some of the questions that make me wonder.
“I wanted protection”, said the homeless man. He wanted protection. Being the youngest and weakest one in your neighborhood, of course you would want protection. Not only from your older siblings but their friends too. You can turn out to be the weakest but with so many people behind your back. He didn’t just have the protection; he had to do gang activity. He killed a few people before but I didn’t see him as a killer.
I learned many things after getting to know him. The one thing I did learn is the need to make smart decisions. His story wasn’t just a story. His story symbolized us who are from the hood. Some may have gone in the same direction and some may have went the other way. No matter the direction you picked, the evil was all around you. And the positive was hiding until you made those good decisions.
I also learned that love doesn’t last forever. That homeless man’s family acted like they didn’t know him once he started to struggle. Being homeless for three years is just too much. If I ever saw one of my family members struggle, I would do anything in the world to make sure they got food, clothes, and most importantly a place to stay.
My name is Sergio Tavarez. I am a 16 year old Dominican living in the West Bronx. I use to live in Washington Heights. I am currently in 11th grade and excited to graduate next year. For college, I want to study zoology. I want to study zoology because I want to understand more of animal behavior and I love animals in general and want to be more connected to them. I want to share an experience of when I met a homeless man which felt like an inspiring story to me. That story made me connect it to my neighborhood and sometimes the struggle we go through as Dominicans. I want our story to be told and want to give shine to my neighborhood.