Born in the Ghetto, Raised in the Hood

Undoubtedly, this post will make you either uncomfortable, or feel completely understood. I can only think of 3 of my readers who would certainly feel at ease reading this, so, beware. I warned you.

I was born and raised in Liberty City, a ghetto in Miami that is known for its high crime and lack of tourists. (Trust me, you won’t see buddy boy with his Hawaiian shirt and camera walking down 79th street unless he’s trying to get a lil somethin’ somethin’ that he ain’t getting at home.) I never really knew that I lived in the ‘hood’ until I went to middle school. It’s something about driving 30 minutes from your house to the ‘good school’ that grows you up real fast. Hearing my peers discuss what they heard on the news or what happened to their cousins who lived in ‘The City’ (an affectionate term for Liberty City), created a deep, painful sense of shame within me. I didn’t want my friends, and definitely not my teachers to associate me with ‘that place’. I wanted people to think that I came from a place that was free from struggle and pain and most importantly, poverty.

In 7th grade, I was given an assignment by my English teacher, Mrs. Serio, to compose an autobiography. I vividly remember sitting on my grandma’s faded purple carpet, back propped up on the couch, trapper keeper on my knees, erasing and rewriting the words ‘Liberty City’ on my college ruled paper. It just looked wrong. I’d practically worn a hole into my manuscript when I finally decided to re-name my neighborhood for the sake of this assignment. The nearby medical center, ‘North Shore’ was the fanciest establishment in the neighborhood that I knew of, so, I re-named Liberty City to ‘North Shore’. “I live in the North Shore area of Miami.” I wrote.

Fortunately, over time, the shame and regret faded away. I’m not sure what the series of events were, but I do know that InterVarsity had a huge voice in the change. I would hear older students in my chapter talking about their excitement to go to the ‘inner city’, not to be charitable, but to learn. “What on earth were these people smoking?” I often wondered. To me, learning anything from the hood meant that you wised up about a couple of things:

1. Don’t carry your money in your purse, wallet, or pockets. You stuff your dollar bills and quarters either in your socks, or, if you had enough to secure it, in your bra. That was never an option for me.

2. Move large, valuable items in your house at night. Moving that plasma t.v. into your house in the daytime is understood as ‘I REALLY don’t want this T.V.! First one who can make it through the obstacle of a locked house can have it!’

3. When you hear loud sounds, you fall to the floor. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. I don’t care if you are in the sanctuary, without hesitation, you drop to the floor.

So, hearing these older students and even more so, staff, talk about learning about Jesus from hoods like mine were mind boggling. The more they talked, the more I reflected, and the more gracious Jesus was to me. I began to see things with fresh sight.  The community that exists in ghettos are unlike anything that I’ve ever seen or experienced. I remember playing for hours with all the neighborhood kids on the street, and at times, getting disciplined by all the neighborhood mamas on the street. No matter the amount of crime that polluted our city, as a child, I remember feeling safe and secure. I knew that as long as I was in hollering distance of any of our neighbors, someone would come out to defend me. I remember dancing in the street with the neighborhood little girls, having dance contests, and not being afraid of the neighborhood cars. I knew that they’d slow down and sometimes yell out ‘Alright lil mama! Y’all gettin it!” I remember those times with an unexplainable fondness, but somehow, along the way, those things escaped my mind.

I believe that one strong force in my self -inflicted distance from the hood has been the evolution of the word ‘ghetto’. If you ever want to make me skeptical of your character, compassion, and sometimes intelligence, you should use the word ‘ghetto’ as an adjective. Really, try it. You will instantly see my jaw clench, my eyes look up to the heavens, and if my husband is around, you will see him whip his arm around my shoulders. It is his affectionate way of saying “Do not beat down that person! Yes, you’ll feel great in the moment, but we don’t have enough money to bail you out!”

Recently, I don’t know when it started, perhaps the last ten years, young people have began to use the word ‘ghetto’ interchangeably with the words: bad, bootlegged, trashy, inappropriate, tacky. The use of the term in this manner is not only demeaning, it assaults one’s identity. While at an InterVarsity Conference for Black students, 2 years ago, a meek, tender young woman stood up to speak in front of about 200 of her peers, and spoke words that will forever grip my heart. “ Sticks and stones will break my bones, and words will kill my soul.” It is true. We are people who were created with rich and beautiful identities, and I believe, that a large part of our journeys on earth is to discover over and over and over again who and what we are. We are unique and beautiful creations created by the Un-created.

When I hear the word ‘ghetto’ being used as an adjective by those whom I know are not from a ghetto, or from White Americans (I’m just being honest. I’ve got my junk too!), many times, I don’t hear ‘ghetto’. I hear ‘Black’. For instance:

“Wow! Look at all that bling! That is so black.

“Wow, look at that tricked out car! That is so black.”

“Why are you talking soo loud?! Stop being so black.”

Sigh. It used to kill my soul. Now it just gets me damned angry. My bestie and I often chanted to each other “Born in the ghetto, raised in the hood!” a song made by Miami locals about their life experiences. We would chant it when were being especially resourceful, when we made a way out of no way (and trust, me that has to happen in college). We chanted this when we were feeling particularly proud of ourselves for being independent women. This is what I think of when I think of the ghetto. Now, I’m no idiot. Ghettos desperately need the love and redemption of Christ. Everything ain’t peachy keen in the hood. But what the ghetto doesn’t need, is more people creating institutionalized racism. The ghetto doesn’t need more onlookers and outsiders to deem it bad, and the ghetto surely doesn’t need the weight of society’s voice aiding in the crippling and crushing of its children.

I am a child of the ghetto. I have been hurt, like many others, by the ignorant, humor-intended words of others. My prayer, as I minister to students, just like me, and as I think and dream about being the mama of little biracial babies, who may end up living in the hood, is that more people would undergo the transformation that those older InterVarsity students went through. That more and more, this generation would see and strive to see Jesus in the most unexpected of places.

10 Responses to “Born in the Ghetto, Raised in the Hood”

  1. Bestie

    Born in the ghetto, raised in the hood!! 🙂 This really is amazing. I never heard the autobiography story…Shout out to North Shore Hospital! lol Seriously, this is the most personal and thoughtful explanation of why ghetto should not be an adjective. I especially like “…what the ghetto doesn’t need is more people creating institutionalized racism.” Truth. I confess, I used to slip up and use ghetto the wrong way…until I first saw your jaw clench :-/, and thinking about it now I said it because I felt very similar to you erasing a hole into your notebook. Using ghetto in the most derogatory way was my method of “self inflicted distance.” I know better now.

    • Alison

      Wow, this is amazing and truly thought provoking. Thank you for sharing your heart and experiences so candidly. You are one gifted woman and I am so thankful for your obedience to how the Lord wants to use you. This is powerful stuff.

  2. Tiffany L.

    I really enjoyed this post, Tereva; incredibly thought-provoking. It’s refreshing to see topics, such as this, from a new perspective, and because of posts like these, I feel like I’m given the privilege to better understand different types of people from different circumstances. I can’t relate by a long shot, but I better understand, thank you :]

    • Eva

      Thanks Tiff. It’s encouraging to know that these posts help in understanding different people/cultures/circumstances. That is what I’ve been hoping for!

  3. grace

    Wow. Thank you so much for sharing your journey… I understand what your saying & it does make me rethink my use of the word, “ghetto,” when I’m using it in a light-hearted way…i.e. “I’m so late…I’m so ghetto.” etc.

    DEEP! Keep it up! =)

  4. Matt Green

    Great post! I have thought a lot about it, like a lot. First question…

    “When I hear the word ‘ghetto’ being used as an adjective by those whom I know are not from a ghetto, or from White Americans”

    What about the people who are from a ghetto? Can they use it? Does it invoke the same anger in you? It sounds like it’s in the same family of the idea that only black people can use the N word, or at least how the default begins with it being substantial worse (though usual is but you get my point)

    Not trying to be annoying or critical, I really am wondering. BTW you have the hottest man around. 🙂

    • Eva

      It’s great to hear from you. I don’t find your comment annoying or critical at all. I’m soo excited to see people engaging with the content and asking questions instead of just accepting my thoughts and opinions. Please, keep it coming. I’d thought about addressing that topic in this post, but it’d gotten pretty long already lol. I completely have the same stance all around. I am from the ghetto and I do not use that word as an adjective. I am also a Black American, and I refuse to agree with the long enforced societal constructs of glorified self hatred. In fact, I am more pained/angered and desperate for the restoration of people and culture through Christ when I hear/see any person that has been so assimilated into mainstream, broken culture that, self degradation becomes something of a second nature. (see the comment labeled ‘bestie’. I think she had some good things to say).
      Many African-Americans justify using the ‘N’ word as a means of transforming a negative, painful experience into something that is positive and brings unity. The problem with that is, that it in fact does NOT bring unity. That word was meant to separate, to deem one group of people as bad and lesser than, and another group as superior. Black people using that word have done the same thing. ‘WE’ black folks can call each other ‘N’s, but if it comes out of your mouth, non-black brother or sister, a beat down is in your future. It’s ridiculous. Nothing about the meaning of the word has changed. It still is what it is, and it still deems one group of people as bad (white folks who say it) and one group of people as superior( Black folks who, have the RIGHT to use it). –gets off soap box– sorry for that long winded response lol.

      All in all, the ghetto is a place, not a descriptor. I deeply believe, as Bestie said, a person from the ghetto who uses the word in such a manner has either 1) not engaged with what they are really saying or 2) is trying to have some sense of distance from that part of their identity, as I did, or 3)both, or a myriad of things lol . Either way, it continues to enforce institutionalized racism, which I will always stand against.

      And yes, my man is the hottest man around 🙂

    • Eva

      also! the reason that I included that particular sentence in this post “When I hear the word ‘ghetto’ being used as an adjective by those whom I know are not from a ghetto, or from White Americans” is to reveal my own junk as well. If I’m gonna be dishing out my opinions and thoughts and experiences, that calls for openness and vulnerability. I think I’m dishing out some pretty heavy stuff, and I want people to see the issues that I deal with as well, and hopefully see the transformation process that the Lord brings about through this blog, interacting with people like you, and engaging with life more richly and deeply. Truth is, Matt, I don’t think the responses that I feel should be different at all. They should all make me desperate for Jesus to intersect our lives and culture, but the broken, wounded part of me, honestly does get more hurt, more angry, more defensive when non-ghetto folks seemingly communicate that the ghetto is ‘less than’.

  5. Lil Sumn


    I’m an English major. I’m supposed to be reading a book by a really popular and well-respected author. Your words are SO much more interesting and informative and captivating! (and funny…and real)

    Take the hint. If you don’t write a book, at least KEEP WRITING!

    I love your bloggerisms!


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>