I Want Better
by Celina Johnson (US)
Audio: "I Want Better," read by Celina Johnson
I remember seeing a little Black girl running up to her daddy on their green spacious lawn and him picking her up and kissing her on the cheek, while the mom, grandma, and other children were all around. He said "hey baby girl" as he carried her. I thought, what a beautiful Black family—but most people don't know we live like this. Unfortunately, some Black people are misinformed or uninformed, as they're only shown articles and tv stories of how low-income and crime-ridden our neighborhoods are. I live, however, in a majority-Black, middle-class neighborhood. The people are everyday people. And yes, you'll see Black families riding bikes together in the streets as well as jogging, walking, and talking to family and friends on their lawns. You'll hear doves and crickets at night. It's a neat neighborhood—has lots of trees, beautiful parks, and a hidden school in the middle of it all. But this is not how one would generally imagine a Black neighborhood.
I have a goal in life—to build the Black community here in America. What I truly hope for is to help create a more positive influence within our neighborhoods, like what was there during the Harlem Renaissance. I want to get rid of the negative prejudices and doubts some people within my community may have due to the lack of positive representation. I’ll build the foundation for this by improving the looks of what people believe to generally be our neighborhoods. If we fix up our neighborhoods to the point where none of them are or seem low income and unprioritized, we will lay the foundation for spreading positive representation. I also want to help those who are “often turned down by private lenders, yet don’t qualify for many government assistance programs,” which tends to lead to an impasse for many Black individuals looking to “rehab their homes” to build a better community.
I’ve been defending people since elementary school, so I was told “you should be a lawyer,” and I’ve stuck with it. As I got to middle school, I saw on the news the injustices my community faced by the failing justice systems. Due to this, I decided I would become a criminal lawyer to help those in my community suffering from this unjust system. However, as I got to high school I realized I could do more at the source of those negative prejudices, such as rebuilding infrastructure by working with the local civic groups to identify and eliminate eyesores and beautify the local environment. This would include getting rid of rundown buildings, creating community buildings as well as job centers, and replacing fast food restaurants with grocery stores, as having healthy alternatives encourages productivity and an overall better lifestyle. Changing our neighborhoods in such a way will drastically convert Black people's views of how our neighborhoods are supposed to be and look. In addition to rebuilding our infrastructure, I want to work on schools. Black schools are underfunded according to The Washington Post, and schools without appropriate funding have trouble producing scholarly kids.
What made me so passionate about changing Black neighborhoods was, simply, the collective negative representation of the Black community that I witnessed. I grew up watching those “struggle black movies” and I hated them because of how they generalized and represented us, as if that was the average life of the African American and I was just living the uncommon fortunate life. Hearing other people's views didn't help either. I asked two Black girls what they think when they hear the words "Black neighborhood.” The words "loud" and "ghetto" were mentioned, and though one of the girls said, "however, my neighborhood isn't that way,” the other girl responded, "but that's what most people think of when hearing the words Black neighborhood." I thought, why do we think like this? What’s causing this? And so, I decided to make plans and build foundations to begin changing our community. I want to get rid of the negative connotations that surround the words “Black neighborhoods and people,” as the synonymity of blackness with criminality is not a new phenomenon in America.
One day I plan to start a nonprofit for exactly this purpose. I want to donate to and fund our schools, rebuild low-income infrastructure within our communities, get rid of food deserts, and create community buildings. I want to create job centers that would pay those living in these low-income neighborhoods to help build and improve our infrastructure. I want to find those who can teach our history and examine our prejudices and behavior, so that we can better understand how they have and will continue to impact our communities in the long run.
Only recently have I begun to see the many negative prejudices from people within my own community. That is the bias that I wish and strive to change in life. The solution: an overwhelming positive representation instead of the negative. And though I’ve been laughed at when saying “I'll rebuild our entire community,” it simply serves as motivation. And though others have attempted to talk me down because "I can't do it,” I won't be discouraged. I know it'll be hard, I know it'll be a lot of money, and I know things won't go the way I expect. But I'm prepared. This is my calling in life. I simply want better. To change other people's minds, we need to first change our own.
Brooks, Kelly. “Research shows food deserts more abundant in minority neighbourhoods.” John Hopkins Magazine, Spring 2014, https://hub.jhu.edu/magazine/2014/spring/racial-food-deserts/.
Cummings, Robert. “Black Struggle Film Production: Meta-Synthesis of Black Struggle Film Production and Critique Since the Millennium.” IAFOR Journal of Media, Communication & Film, 6.1, Summer 2019, http://iafor.org/archives/journals/iafor-journal-of-media-communication-and-film/10.22492.ijmcf.6.1.04.pdf.
Greenblatt, Alan. “Why Black Neighborhoods Continue to Struggle.” Governing, 29 Apr. 2021, https://www.governing.com/community/why-black-neighborhoods-continue-to-struggle.
Meckler, Laura. “Study finds black and Latino students face significant ‘funding gap’.” Washington Post, 22 Jul. 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/study-finds-black-and-latino-students-face-significant-funding-gap/2020/07/21/712f376a-caca-11ea-b0e3-d55bda07d66a_story.html.
Ngraulich. “Re-framing Crime, Violence, and Poverty: new cinematic narratives of Black criminality in Imperial Dreams.” Anthropoliteia, 12 Oct. 2018, https://anthropoliteia.net/2018/10/12/re-framing-crime-violence-and-poverty-new-cinematic-narratives-of-black-criminality-in-imperial-dreams/.
Smiley, CalvinJohn, and Fakunle, David. “From “brute” to “thug:” the demonization and criminalization of unarmed Black male victims in America.” Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 26 (3-4), 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5004736/.
Stahl, Ashley. “The Links Between Diet And Productivity.” Forbes, 8 Sept. 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleystahl/2017/09/08/the-links-between-diet-and-productivity/?sh=250682b8667a.
“20 Tips for Safe, Clean & Healthy Communities.” Government Website for Murray County, Georgia, https://www.murraycountyga.org/436/20-Tips-for-Safe-Clean-Healthy-Communiti, [accessed 7 Jun. 2022].
Celina Johnson, 16, from New York City, is an activist for low-income communities. Her current goal as a teen writer is to collaborate with organizations to build black communities. “I Want Better” outlines how she will achieve this socially, politically, and economically.
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11/24/23, 4:42 PM
I'm amazed by your deep perception towards little things of life! Keep glowing dear Taieba.
10/4/23, 10:28 AM
I'll like to see more of your writing
10/4/23, 10:26 AM
Gsk I love it!
10/3/23, 7:58 PM
9/29/23, 2:03 AM
9/29/23, 2:03 AM
Wow..just wow. Ridiculous words I know. I just stumbled across your poem as this is my first time on the website and I landed this masterpiece. As an immigrant myself, I could relate to several aspects of this. Your use of imagery, symbolism, and allusion is outstanding
9/17/23, 8:43 AM
Powerful. Spreading the truth some don't think about, some don't have to worry about. A great and strong piece.
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
8/25/23, 10:35 PM
Excellent and amazing
8/17/23, 7:00 AM
Absolutely beautiful poem! The words were picked meaningfully and used it a descriptive way. Very relatable.