Imagine this; you are just 4yrs old, living in the heart of Bedstuy, Brooklyn during the drug epidemic in the late 1980’s. The drugs destroyed everyone around me…made an 18 yr old look like they’re 80! It even destroyed my own father…
I remember, vividly, living on the 1st fl…and seeing drug addicts walk right next to my bedroom window. Picture this, you’re asleep, and a zombie from the scariest horror movie you’ve ever seen is trying to steal something by reaching in through the sheer curtains of your bedroom window…gratefully we had steel grates, which prevented them from getting in.
Even more terrifying was the sound of gunshots right outside my window, glass bottles breaking, sirens, screams, and the worst of all? Walking by someone who is overdosing right in front of you, eyes rolled back into their head, foaming at the mouth, body shaking uncontrollably…and if you stare closely, they resemble your grandmother. THIS was my hell, and THIS hell shaped, impacted and influenced my adolescence. When I got older, I knew at that point that I didn’t want my family and I to suffer anymore…I had to get out.
My adolescent years were far from easy. My family and I were still living in public housing, which means that we moved every two years or so. I was also dealing with the fear of dying from violence in my neighborhood, or that I would lose friends to the violence as well….which unfortunately became a truth for me. I needed a change! But somehow I knew that in order for that change to take place, I needed to make that change myself.
Enter my next phase in life, Junior High School 111, better known as the Enrico Fermi school. Here is where I met one of the men who will change my life forever.
I enter this room on the first floor of the school, which looked like a waiting room, and there was this man sitting in a chair with a warm smile. He introduced himself to me and said “Hi, my name is Francis Blacklock, and I’m a school counselor here. I was wondering if you would be willing to share your stories with me, in hopes that I can be a source of comfort and guidance in what you may be going through in your life.” I thought to myself “This is STRANGE. Who is this tall man with this weird accent (because of his Irish descent) asking me to share my stories with him? No one wants to help me! I’m a loser. A victim of the system. A Welfare- NYC Housing Hispanic kid- father in and out of jail – food stamp baby-roaches and rats living- no future having, loser.
Francis Blacklock, the man who changed my life, made me realize that I was wrong.
He gave me an outlet to express my fears and frustrations with the situations happening in my life. He asked if I wanted to join My Voice Theatre, a youth theatre group that writes and performs plays based on the collective stories of the youth living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. This theatre group was so important to me, as it helped me cope with my pain, as well as knowing that I wasn’t alone; that I had friends and a mentor who would listen to the problems we had and help push each other to be the best person that we can be. Being in My Voice Theatre helped me deal with the everyday stresses of being a teenager living in the Bedstuy, Brooklyn under the welfare system. The skills I honed while at MVT were knowing how speak clear and concisely, learning other cultures (as we were invited to perform our play “About US: Overseas in Ireland”) voice projection, deal with emotions, empathy, defeating shyness and stage fright and most importantly, learning how to listen to others and be a source of comfort. These skills helped me navigate my way through rough patches in my life, especially sensing danger and making the right decisions that kept me out of jail.
My Voice Theatre has had a huge impact in my life, and is the reason why I stand strong today. As a business owner, father, and a Director of Photography for the National Football League, I always let people know about My Voice Theatre, my first true family, and Francis Blacklock, my first true parent.