The guys from N.W.A. (from the movie Straight Outta Compton) were born within a few years of me, and in the town that bordered mine in Los Angeles County. I was born in Lynwood, which shares a border with Compton, and until I was 10 years old we lived next door in South Gate. If someone says they were born “in the ‘hood” or they are from the ‘hood’ (slang for neighbourhood), well … where I’m originally from in L.A. is one of those places.
There were three generations of our family living within a few blocks of each other in South Gate. When our family first arrived it was one of those quintessential white American towns where ladies competed to have the best-manicured lawn and garden, the houses were pastel pink, green, blue, or yellow, and kids played (safely) outdoors. That was in the 50s and 60s. Fast forward a decade or so to when I was a little girl, things changed quite a bit. By the mid-70s it was turning into quite a rough place for anyone to live. And just like you see in the film Straight Outta Compton, for minorities it was increasingly dangerous for a whole other set of reasons. They faced – and continue to face – shocking levels of racism, bias, and illegal persecution from the police, simply for not being born white, dressing differently, or for not being able to live in a nicer area.
The 3rd time our house was burgled the guys who did it actually tied up our dog Sam and beat him. That’s when my Mom decided to sell the house and in 1980 she moved us out of South Gate to a smaller, charming city about an hour away called Redlands. It sits at the base of a mountain, has Victorian homes, heritage buildings reminiscent of Spanish architecture, and I remember that for months out of the year it smelled like orange blossoms because our house was next to acres upon acres of orange groves.
Geography and Destiny
Although I will never know for sure, I believe that single change of geography influenced the outcome of my life like nothing else. Well, at least my initial path and the foundation of my personality and outlook on life. I’m a trusting person and don’t live in fear, I believe that anything is possible, and I 100% believe that we are all equal.
As you see with the guys from N.W.A., many families weren’t so fortunate. Especially if they didn’t own their home or didn’t have a better than average salary or earning potential. They were stuck and couldn’t leave, or equally sad they were forced to move to a dangerous neighbourhood like Compton or South Gate because it was all they could afford.
It’s certainly not a situation I would ever put my daughter into and I’m sure it broke the hearts of every mother there to have to put their children in harms way.
As a single mom who received zero child support from my ex-husband while my daughter was growing up, I know first-hand that without the financial means, or earning potential, or family that can help, it is terribly hard to step out of a situation like that.
Because of how hard it can be, mere geography seals the fate of way too many children. Smart, clever kids with infinite potential will have infinitely LESS opportunity because of where they were born or where they live. Trust me, I’ve seen it. My daughter attended public schools in the U.S. and Spain and private schools in Spain and India and there was a night-and-day difference to the education she received when we lived in ‘nicer areas’ (or at the private schools). Especially when she was in public school in a less affluent area and there was a greater than average number of rougher kids attending. Only a few students from that school actually went on to uni, whereas 96% of my daughter’s graduating class from the international school in India went on to top universities. It’s crazy!
Luck & The Power of Ambition
We have no control over the circumstances we are born into, and from the look of it, it is by pure chance how that lottery works. If we’re lucky, from a young age we can start to shape our own lives to a certain extent, which is the most inspiring message from Straight Outta Compton in my opinion. The guys from N.W.A. were ambitious and worked hard to turn their dreams into a reality. They chose a path, stood up to adversity, and became incredible role models. Dr. Dre’s 2014 deal with Apple for Beats was amazing because at $3 billion it was the largest acquisition deal by the tech giant in its history.
Some kids see the life they are living in and decide on their own that they want to change it, doing everything they can to escape it. From an early age I talked to my daughter about the importance of an education, about how she needed to think about her future so she was never dependent on a man, and on choosing a career path that made her happy AND would easily put bread on the table. She’s now in her 2nd year of uni, amazingly dedicated to her goal of becoming a doctor and eventually working around the world for the United Nations public health arm WHO or an NGO like Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. I’m so very proud of her.
I wish I could take credit for my daughter’s ambition and drive but my failures helped her more than our open and honest conversations about education and choosing the right career. Working mainly for start-ups means that I’ve been in and out of a job more frequently than the next gal we struggled over the years when I was unemployed. My daughter saw that yo yo life we led and decided she never wanted to live that way (up and down financially), and that has been a huge driver for her choices – and ambition – in her life’s path.
My sister and I were speaking last week about how we are a very different kind of mom than our moms were when it comes to setting expectations for our children’s education and their path in life. Our parents didn’t start to talk about the importance of ‘a good job’ until we were well, well, well into our teens, right around the same time higher education discussions started, whereas we started both of those discussions with our children before elementary school commenced.
We were both very lucky when it came to how and where we grew up, and I know that made our lives so much easier than many people have it. It also contributed to our breezy views and our positive outlook on life. It’s going to be very interesting to see just how our children turn out. If they have half the drive to succeed as the guys from N.W.A., they’ll be doing a-okay in my humble opinion.
If you haven’t seen the biopic origin story of the guys from N.W.A. yet you really need to watch it! One of my favourite songs from the ’90s is Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang, check out the scene in Stright Outta Compton of them creating it back around ’91
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