Alexis Gaskin

Growing Up In A Trailer Park Was Tough -- But I Won't Let It Define Me

I won’t forget where I came from, but I will not let it hold me down

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I grew up in a trailer park where drug deals occurred on one corner as a fight broke out on the other. The neighborhood -- or, as we call it, “The Park” -- is full of convicted felons and drug addicts. Basically, it's a place where one is destined to go down the wrong path.

My next-door neighbor was my only “friend.” We were very similar in terms of what we had to deal with at home, but were nothing alike in terms of character. My mother has been addicted to drugs since she moved to the Park at 13, and my neighbor's mother was a big drinker. Both of us had absent fathers who left us with nothing. But this "friend" also tormented me every day and treated me like her personal punching bag. She did drugs, skipped class, and got arrested.

Over the years, we both grew up and, ultimately, apart. While she strayed into the bad parts of our neighborhood, I stayed inside reading books, doing my homework, and taking care of my sister because our mother was usually too high to even get out of bed. Every morning, I woke my sister up for school and prepared her lunch. When we weren’t doing our laundry or finishing our homework, we were scavenging for food. Handling my mother’s addiction and my father’s absence made me grow up a lot faster than I wanted to.

I knew I wanted to get out of The Park and be a role model for my sister and all the other kids in the neighborhood. I volunteered in my community by tutoring students, made scarves for battered-women's shelters, and planted trees with little kids. Doing so allowed me to finally find a supportive community. I started to focus more in school, found my passion in subjects such as biology and chemistry, and fostered my dreams of becoming a doctor. After witnessing the pain my mother experienced going through withdrawal and occasionally overdosing, I desperately aspired to grow up to be someone who could help those who, like my mom, aren't able to help themselves.

The Park changed all of us. Despite growing up in the same trailer park, we all took very different paths. According to the Pew Research Center, students from low-income communities are more likely to drop out of high school than those from upper-income communities. The number of students from such communities who attend college is even lower. Most people in my neighborhood never made it to the 11th grade.

But I kept going. I didn’t listen to stereotypes that said I’d end up a failure. Every time someone tried to stop me from succeeding, I overcame their expectation and surpassed even my own. This past summer, I applied for the Bank of America Student Leaders internship and was chosen as one of five students out of a pool of 130 applicants. When I got this opportunity, I knew that I could achieve more and even potentially reach my ultimate goal of attending a four-year university.

Knowing that I am going to be the first person in my family to go to college pushes me to keep going. I have heard so many times that I was never going to make it and that I was going to end up a drug addict just like my mother. But I refuse. I refuse to become a part of the statistics that try to define me. The Park will always be my home and I won’t forget where I came from, but I will not let it hold me down.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated since publication.