Response to a Prompt (Limit 300 Words)

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The one thing no one can ever take from you is your knowledge.

-Grandpa

My grandparents immigrated to the United States from the Philippines with nine children in 1971. They became citizens and struggled through a language barrier and financial duress to support their children. Mom sifts through memories out loud of the family receiving clothes and gifts from kind strangers participating in government programs for those in need.

I try to resist, but sing the lyrics to a rather ratchet, yet annoyingly catchy, song by MariahLynn, in which she details her previous stint as a “ho” and her need for more money. My grandmother stirs in her grave. For shame.

But unlike today’s youths separated from real life by the internet, selfies and the filters of social media, I know better. My family’s economic trudge spilled into my childhood, our home surrounded by drive-by shootings and gang violence. I built my own stairway out of that place while still carrying it with me.

Poverty is like a basement with no exit, the kind with dark concrete walls, no windows and a pungent musk of captivity. We either live a life perpetuated by this environment or forge a pathway out, the former easier than the latter. Pop culture’s tool box includes frames of money, Bugattis and Louboutins flashed through social media accounts, but the digital landscape is not at fault. If anything, we are, for absorbing and regurgitating false perceptions and putrid self indulgence instead of using technology for what it is: a hub of paths leading anywhere in the world, even the basement.

Grandpa’s tools include a small mirror and a book. Always remember who you are. Build you. Grow your mind. Never stop. If we are all the best versions of ourselves, the world will follow.

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