By Brandon Moreno

Student, Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics


“What is this… Is this what you wanted? Was it?!”

It was here on the last day of my inadequate sophomore year that I reflected. I stared down at numbers displayed on a vibrant neon sheet of paper in front of me. The grades I received imbedded a shoddy smear on my academic career and as a result I was afraid that I wouldn’t become the person I wanted to be; that I wouldn’t become a “somebody.” As much as I was broken throughout the year, seeing this paper and holding it completely shattered me. Disappointed and disgusted, I decided to walk the many miles back home in an attempt to heal myself and to forget all the damage I have caused to no one other than myself. The environment surrounding me hurt more than it healed me. The continuous scenes of poverty, the obnoxious screams, insufferable abuse, a deficiency of nature… an absence of happiness. Happiness always felt so distant here. I felt like a ghost, invisible from society and an alien to the place I call home.

This is the Bronx, New York’s “forgotten” borough… the place that annihilated me. The things I saw and heard on a daily basis petrified me. I would say to myself, “What am I doing here?” or “I don’t belong here.” I was at my core broken, trying to escape from the harsh reality I lived in. It’s hard to find answers in the Bronx, a place looked down upon by many people in America.

I started to lose myself. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t see me; I saw my shadow. I didn’t feel alive. I felt hollow. My emotions ran wild and I felt as if I was slowly fading away. The Brandon I once was had vanished.

I spent several days, weeks, even months feeling empty. My grades in school plummeted as did my reputation as a student. I was always complaining, rarely focusing on forging my path for the future. As time progressed, from sunrise to sunset, I felt less and less human. I no longer cared about anyone anymore including myself. I wondered what my parents thought about who I had become. Did they care… did they give up on me?

I sat down with my parents one night at the kitchen table. The way they stared at me distanced us even though we sat only feet from each other. We were talking, and I realized at one point during the conversation that I had lost my parents trust. The two most important people on this earth who love me were hurt by who I had become (or not become) and I did nothing but watch. My mother began sobbing, my father sat baffled and it was at this moment that I knew I had to change my ways. I never intended to hurt my parents or anyone else. I knew I had to wake up and correct my mistakes but I didn’t know how.

After the conversation ended I went to my room and I sat on my bed staring up into the darkness. I was shaken… several teardrops streamed down my face as I closed my eyes. I tried to escape from reality and pretend none of this was happening, but then I heard my mother’s voice echoing from the conversation at the dinner table moments before. I listened closely. “I want the old Brandon back.” These six simple yet profound words sparked a light within my darkness as I realized how much I had let myself go. For a brief second life came to an abrupt stop as I reflected on my past. I had been traumatized by the darkness. However I deal with the hurt from this trauma will define who I am forever. I had a choice to make. Do I look inward and heal or do I take that hurt and turn it into anger and take it out on the world? After the final teardrop streamed down my face I made my decision.

It was time for me to wake up and make something out of myself. I needed to make my parents proud. I needed to love and serve them as they have loved and served me. In this moment, a part of me was glad that I encountered academic failure, faced the Bronx, and lost a sense of who I am. By seeing who I do not want to be, I am empowered to shine brightly as the person I know I can become.

During my darkest days, I faced nothing but defeat. I was indeed astray, my mind incapacitated, my feelings scorched. And although these days weren’t my brightest, they served as an initiation into my journey: the great journey of realizing my potential. My environment brought more of me out, like the stars that shine brightly because of the darkness surrounding them. The Bronx might not be the happiest place on earth but it’s the best place to stand out, to become more, to serve others… my parents have given me all the tools I need and now it’s up to me to become a somebody, to be their star.

It’s hard to watch someone you love destroy themselves and fall apart. Especially when that someone is yourself. It is not until we face darkness that we realize how fragile we all are. How much we rely on each other. How important family is. With the loving nature of family the light within me ignited. My past mistakes shall not define the character I am today. Although the Bronx impaired me, it also empowered me. The darkness may surround me but as it does, it enables me to shine brighter than ever before.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.