What Growing Up In The Hood Taught Me.

Jun 15 · 3 min read

For all the boardrooms I’m fortunate enough to grace now, and endeavors I’ve sought to pursue — almost nothing I’ve learned in the past 10 years can compare to the things I learned in my first 10.

Growing up as the son of immigrant parents is the nearest thing to my heart. When my folks immigrated to the US from the Dominican Republic, they headed over to the big city of dreams — NYC — to give their kids their shot.

Like a lot of immigrant communities (some, but not all), you’re typically living in lower-income neighborhoods. The hood, if you will.

There’s all different kinds of hoods.

Gully ass hoods. Poor-but-still-nice hoods. Latino hoods. African hoods. Albanian hoods. You-better-not-step-on-my-J’s ass hoods. Oye-papi-watchu-lookin-at hoods. Run-yo-shit hoods.

All colors and creeds, all different geographies. In cities, in the burbs, in the south, on the west. If you grow up poor, you’ll likely end up in one of these hoods.

From the outside, it’s easy to chalk up everything that goes on in our communities and as dangerous and senseless. From the inside, there’s a more nuanced picture.

Growing up in the hood taught me the most fundamental characteristics to my success. But also taught me things I’m still needing to ‘unlearn’ to reach new levels.

Taught me the extremities of human nature when pushed up against the wall. The good way and the bad way.

Taught me the severity of your daily decisions when you don’t have a safety blanket or an uncle who can pull strings to bail you out.

Taught me what it’s like to consistently not get the benefit of the doubt… In fact, to assume that you won’t get the benefit of the doubt in most cases.

Showed me, in a very real way, what squandered potential looks like. The many forms it can take, and what cues to beware of.

My pops, who pressed garments for 40 cents a pop and drove a gypsy cab by night, showed me what being truly resourceful is. How much mileage you can get out of an un-ideal situation even when you think you’ve exhausted all options.

My mom, who sold Super-soakers in the park during summers and cooked banging’ ass seafood to sell it on the block during winters, showed me you can literally make your own job.

My brother and I used to play stickball with all the other kids on our street, wide-eyed and full of joy.

They pitch the ball my way… pop. It’s a fly ball, up and to the right. Not a great hit… surely an ‘Out’ — but I run the bases anyway.

I wouldn’t know it then as kids circling the bases, how the outside world would be. I didn’t even know there was an outside world.

Somehow, all I ever needed — then and now — was an inexplicable dance of human nature condensed into tiny city blocks, to show me the ropes.

If you looked closely into the eyes of souls, used your eyes to see what wasn’t there, and kept your heart rooted in the same dirt that made you — you would have your guidance.

The world I live in now is much broader and more expansive. I’ve discovered causes worthy of life-long pursuit. I’ve learned things reserved for the privileged. I’m learning to walk amongst giants.

Although, when I’m faced with decisions, and I don’t know how to play it or what the right call is…

Somehow, I know I have all the preparation I’ll need to figure it out. And it came from my hood.

JH

Thank you for reading. Hope you enjoyed this short free-flow of thought.

PS. Dug this? Would love to hear your thoughts on this piece as it’s a little different from what I normally share, but just as true to my core and fundamental to my approach to entrepreneurship.

John Henry

Written by

Partner @HarlemCapital. Podcast @GimletMedia. Real Estate Investor. Sold first startup.

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