By Christina Quarles, 17, Palisades Charter HS
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Christina says that instead of abandoning troubled neighborhoods, we should all do more to improve them.

In L.A. everyone moves west—or at least tries to. Many areas, such as Compton and Watts, were once nice predominantly middle-class neighborhoods. But what happened? Low-income people moved in, and middle-class people moved out. Many of the new residents were black and Latino, and many whites left. However, these days, white people aren’t the only ones pushing west. I am an African-American who has never attended a school in the neighborhood where I lived. When I lived in South Central, I went to Orville Wright Middle School in Westchester. Now that I live in Westchester, I attend Palisades Charter High School.

It’s not hard to understand why people move. When I lived in South Central, I saw gang violence, drug abuse and teen pregnancy. Prosperity and the “American dream” were just dreams, and survival of the fittest was the only reality. I lived in the ghetto.

This is why I was glad when I moved to Westchester. Compared to South Central, Westchester is heaven. It’s a quiet, middle to upper-middle class neighborhood. My family rents an apartment here. After 13 long years I finally got to say goodbye to poverty, dirty streets, high school dropouts and fear itself. Or at least I thought I did …

Illustration by Jessica Galvez, 14, East Valley HS (North Hollywood)

One night last summer, rowdy teenagers were outside arguing on my street. Everyone on the entire block could hear them. It went on for 20 minutes. I went upstairs to my room and tried to drown them out with music. These types of situations had been going on for weeks and I think my entire neighborhood was tired of this group. Suddenly I heard POP! POP! POP! and the type of screams you hear in horror movies. I knew something had gone terribly wrong and I was scared. I rushed to the window and saw two teenage black males lying on the ground. Paramedics rushed one of the boys to the hospital, while they performed CPR on the other, who was unconscious. After five minutes, the paramedics quit, hoisted him onto a gurney, slid him into their vehicle and drove off. It took a few minutes to sink in that he had died.

A shooting outside my house?

I grew furious, how could this happen in Westchester? I thought, these rowdy kids and their friends need to pack up and move back east. My dad pays tons of money a month to live in this good neighborhood and now someone was murdered in a drive-by right outside our front door. We moved out of the ghetto so we could get away from this violence, not so it could follow us. I told my dad that we needed to move again, because this neighborhood was going to get worse, and Westchester would become the “new ghetto.” He told me to stop being ridiculous. Anger welled inside me. I went upstairs and screamed into my pillow. I thought, “I’m never going to be able to escape. The only place left is the ocean, and they’ll have to build an underwater city just to escape this madness, and I’ll join them.”

When I heard crying and wailing outside, I snapped back to reality. I suddenly realized how selfish and heartless I was. Someone had just lost a son, a friend; a boy had lost his life. The world was robbed of whatever potential greatness that young man carried inside of him. Another young black male had fallen victim to violence, had become a statistic, and all I could think about was my dad’s rent, and a better place to live.

I can’t think of a time when I had behaved like a bigger moron. I climbed down from my bed and said a prayer for the boys’ families. I don’t know what happened to the other young boy, but I think of them both when I walk along the sidewalk where the shootings occurred. I never knew their names, and possibly had never even seen them, but I do know they did not die in vain. Instead they taught me something that night. In every neighborhood, everyone deserves to live in peace. No matter where you live, crime will always be nearby. At the moment I don’t know exactly what I, as an individual, can do about it, but I know running doesn’t solve the problem. Everyone working for a better community, for a better world, does.

Sadly, it took the death of one, maybe two teenage boys to wake me up. I need to be proud of wherever I live and do what I can to make my community a better place, a place of peace, a place I feel honored to call home.

A version of this article first appeared on, a Web site for high school and other essays.