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119 Chapter 5 |  “It’s Kind of Like Crabs in a Bucket”: How Family and Neighborhood Disadvantage Hinder the Transition to Adulthood What happens to a dream deferred? —Langston Hughes, “Harlem” (1951) Whitney and Ron, from chapter 4, turned to the streets instead of finding an identity project. For them, the streets filled a similar need but produced far different results. Whether because of fear of repercussions, the transition to parenthood, or simply the sense that they were not “about” the streets—that, as they said, “it wasn’t me”—most youth eventually left criminal behavior behind. Some, like Ron, still hustled on the side, but also got on track and began working to earn a degree. Others, like Whitney , remained disconnected and adrift, perhaps damaged by the years of living a high-­ risk lifestyle. These youth stood in stark contrast to the young adults in chapter 3, such as Bob, the expressive and creative Japanese anime fan who grew up in Somerset Homes. His passion for theater, poetry, anime, and Goth style made him stand out from the other young men in the projects. When we first met Bob in 2004, his deep intellectual curiosity, strong performance in both English and math, and unwavering work ethic made him one of the strongest college prospects in the study. Equally stunning was Bridget, a bright young woman who, in 2010, was trying to keep the perils of her neighborhood and home life at bay by committing deeply to dance. Her exceptionally high scores on her ninth-­ grade PSAT had instilled an ambition to attend an Ivy League college, and she had taken it upon herself to audition at a competitive performing arts magnet school. Getting into the 120      Coming of Age in the Other America magnet school would enable her to avoid the local high school, where she felt that most kids were not serious about their studies. If we had been asked to predict which of the young adults we met during our Baltimore fieldwork were most likely to complete a four-­ year college degree, we would have chosen Bridget and Bob. But even for some of these most promising youth in our study—including those who found a strong sense of purpose through an identity project—family, school, and neighborhood could still act as an “undertow”—a drag on their momentum as they attempted to launch. This compelled them to take shortcuts to fulfill their ambitions, propelled by the need to make an expedited leap into adulthood. “I’M TRYING TO GO ALL FOUR YEARS!” When we spoke with Bob’s mother Teresa in 2004, she proudly listed his many academic achievements, alongside extensive activities at church and in an Afrocentric theater troupe led by his youth pastor. When he was in seventh grade, Bob submitted an entry to the “Champions of Courage” essay contest—sponsored by a local news affiliate in Baltimore—and won first prize for a story he had written about how much his stepfather meant to him. By eighth grade, he had earned a place on the best chess team in the city. Teresa recalled the evening she turned on the television to relax with her husband. Just at that moment, to their surprise, the local news anchor was handing her son the microphone as he proudly claimed victory on behalf of his team. Teresa extolled Bob for always being the “top person in his class” and never missing a single day of school that could not be accounted for by a high fever or a doctor’s visit. Although it was no surprise to her that he ended up gaining admission to the competitive academic magnet school Claremont High, he was the only one from his eighth-­ grade class to do so, and only three of his middle school peers got into any of the selective schools in the city. Once at Claremont, Bob flourished. It was the place where he felt he finally fit in, where his enthusiasm for literature and math was the norm and did not attract the cruel teasing he had endured in middle school when he showed a penchant for reading Shakespeare sonnets for fun. At Claremont, he said, “I knew I had come for business. . . . I wasn’t there to play around, I was there for school.” In 2004, Teresa described how he came home each day, bursting to tell her about everything he had learned. “‘Ma, oh we did this, we did that [at school]!’” she said...


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