I was raised in the Sunnydale Projects where shoot-outs, fights, and a war zone were my environment. Gun fights reigned from morning to night; police brutalized youth and evicted people from their homes. Sunny Dale was where I became street wise, where I witnessed my first dead body, and where my mother developed her addiction to crack cocaine. In October 2009 I left my mom’s house in the Sunny Dale Projects. Since I was ten my mother has been abusing substances, dramatically affecting her and her relationship with her kids.

As the years progressed the abuse from my mother and her substance addiction became severe. She originally had six kids but as she got worse the fights increased between her and her kids and eventually, all but three of us ran away. I remained, even as the abuse persisted. I took on the challenge that would prove to be the most difficult one of my life. Ultimately, my mom took none of my advice and proceeded in her bad habits.

Moneace-and-nica-girlDespite the pain I’ve endured I am unbreakable. It’s my dreams that held me up, motivating me to stay on the college path and inspiring me to stay active in my community. I seek to go to college so that I can become a Pediatrician; but this is just the means to my end. My ultimate goal is to empower my community by keeping them and their families healthy. To achieve this end I seek to start a program that teaches youth and adults about general health and substance abuse. Substance abuse is like the common cold in my community so I am determined to use my college education to uplift my community out of substance abuse and addiction.

Over the summer my heart traveled with my soul to a place I never thought I would go: Nicaragua. I inhaled a new culture that opened my eyes, I was surrounded by a new language that was music to my ears, and devoured food so memorable I can still taste it. Gallo pinto, carne asada, and nacatamales, the native food of the Nicaraguenses, still sits on the tip of my tongue. Estelí, Nicaragua is where I experienced freedom. For the first time since I could remember, I left behind the boulders in my life that have weighed me down for so long.

But while I let go of my personal pain, I witnessed Nicaraguans enduring their own. I saw the poverty piling up on the streets as people lay on top of the trash as if they were pillows. Young boys walked barefoot begging for “un peso” as they pulled desperately on my clothes. For survival, people were forced to become entrepreneurs, selling phones, food, clothes, and shoes. People were rich in spirit and culture. I was ecstatic to see the radical activism in their culture with the monuments of armed pregnant women and youth fighting back, or murals of Nicaraguan heroes everywhere. I was impressed with how aware and involved the citizens were in the Socialist politics and how powerful the youth’s voice was. This experience altered my whole mind state—Nicaraguans were involved in their communities to become part of the solution. I must continue doing the same.

MD-SmithOne way I continue being a leader in my community, like the youth in Nicaragua is as a Youth Outreach Worker (YOW). As a YOW, I support my peers to strive academically and teach them about health and community issues such as sex education and police brutality. One of my main purposes is to build unity and community at my school through planning events and teaching educational workshops because to share knowledge to the community so that in unity we can fight against the issues that effect us as one.

My life has been a never-ending uphill journey but through it all, I know one thing; that I’ve earned my dreams. Like Nicaraguans in their struggle for education and justice for their dreams with my voice and mind I will become part of my own solution which is to move on to the next level in my educational journey to my dream of being a Pediatrician. With the knowledge I gain I will bring it back to inform and empower my community with sharing the knowledge I gain in the class rooms.

Moneace is now a sophomore at SUNY Purchase in New York studying pre-med and interning at a local hospital. She is known to her peers and supporters as “MD Smith.”