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Featured Student – Jennifer Morales

After putting on my leotard for ballet practice, my mom and I always walk towards our car together. Each time before opening the door, I run my fingers through the bullet holes that pepper a path along the side of my family’s car. This reminds me of the night when I was awakened suddenly as I heard my dad scream with alarm, “¡No se levanten! ¡No se levanten!” (Don’t stand up!) I heard the reverberating echoes of the gang members’ gunshots and I knew in an instant that we had just survived another drive-by shooting.

I live in two contrasting worlds of dueling realities. I have been blessed with a caring family that tries to keep me involved in activities that will expand my knowledge in different areas such as ballet and jazz, but we also have lived next door to gang members for eleven years. Sometimes, the rival gang members of my neighbors miss their target, and on this particular occasion, four bullets had hit my family’s car. Due to the constant presence of violent criminals in my neighborhood, I can never relax and must be alertly aware of my surroundings every time I step out of my house. I can still remember how each afternoon that I wore my white leotard as a little girl, I pretended that it was my very own bullet proof vest.

My passion for dancing has been the source of my escape since I was seven years old as I quickly discovered how I could transform the negative feelings from my neighborhood into a striking performance. When I take the stage, I motivate myself to kick higher in a grand battement, kicking away an unhealthy lifestyle. I imagine jumping higher in a cabriole, reaching for the four-year college degree that I will attain. And as I pirouette across the stage, I get a 360-degree glimpse of the world that surrounds me without losing the focus point towards which I am moving.  My audience has no idea about the environment surrounding my house, but my hope is that my resilience will show through in each of my performances.

I cannot wait for my college graduation where, instead of my father telling us to duck for cover, he will scream with pride, “Stand up! Stand up!”

Looking back, those same bullet holes that remain on the side of my family’s car still serve as a constant reminder that I cannot continue to live in this manner and that I must excel in academics to improve my family’s economic situation. As I approach adulthood, I can no longer pretend to shield myself with a white leotard as I attempted to do as a child, but instead I will envelope myself with the protection provided by education’s cloak of knowledge. I cannot wait for my mom and me to walk towards the entrance of the university that I will attend and to run my fingers through the textbooks that will fill my brain with new found understanding during the following four years.

Better yet, I cannot wait for my college graduation where, instead of my father telling us to duck for cover, he will scream with pride, “Stand up! Stand up!” And when I hear the reverberating echoes of my family’s applause at my commencement ceremony, I will know in that instant that I have just become a first generation college graduate.

Jennifer Morales
Reality Changers Class of 2010

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