Terrance – #FiveYearsLater #STL2039

St. Louis has become something bigger

Part of the #FiveYearsLater #STL2039 series with Humans of St. Louis

My early elementary years I stayed by Vashon High School. Those were the best years of my life. Everyone in the neighborhood was around my age. We all clicked. After homework got out of the way, I’d get to go outside and play with friends all day long. I was fast, so when we played hide and seek, no one would ever catch me unless I let myself get caught. That was the best! No responsibilities. No worries or anything. Then I moved like four years later. It didn’t seem like there was a reason. My mom just said she felt like it was time for us to move. Then my sophomore year, our house had gotten broken into and my mom thought it was safer to for my brother and I if we moved again. I transferred from Gateway Stem to Normandy High School, and I didn’t want to because I heard that Normandy was a bad school. I wasn’t thinking, ‘This is where Mike Brown went. Look what happened to him.’ I was thinking more like, ‘I’m going to be in a bad school. I need to go somewhere else that can help me get into a better college.’ I tried to live with my uncle and my cousins for a bit because Gateway really was a good school for me and I felt like I fit in. But, my mom missed me a lot.

Terrance Barton, Photostory by Colleen O’Connell Smyth/Humans of St. Louis

Fourth grade was my worst year ever. We had so many substitute teachers. No one could control us. I was always the center of attention because I knew everybody. It was a bad thing because I’d get in trouble for it. My stepmom, my mom, and my dad came to school one day to talk to the teachers. Kids were separated between those on the honors track and non-honors, so they moved me to the honors track. After that, I excelled. At the end of the year, my mom said to me, ‘If you were in high school or college and got in trouble like this there’s no telling what could happen. You could have been in jail right now or killed.’ She wasn’t going to let me be placed on that track. Growing up, I’ve seen so many kids that didn’t have what they needed. They didn’t have someone to make sure they aren’t tracked a certain way. But my mom and my stepmom were on it.

Growing up, I’ve seen so many kids that didn’t have what they needed. They didn’t have someone to make sure they aren’t tracked a certain way.

I was 13 years old when Michael Brown was killed. I was still just a kid. I heard about it when I went to my stepmom’s house. She was talking about it with her daughters, and I didn’t really pay too much attention because I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Then she took me to a protest. At first, I didn’t understand what was happening. She told me a cop shot a child who was unarmed. People were out in the streets. So many stores were just messed up along the way, I thought, ‘What did that have to do with protest? Wouldn’t you just put up signs and yell at the police or whatever?’

There was a girl I went to school with at Normandy, and she looked up to an activist who passed away. He was killed in his car. I remember seeing her cry after it happened. He died because he was speaking the truth. It was scary. People who were speaking up were getting death threats. I asked her, ‘Are you willing to be a protester and do as much as he did?’ She said, ‘Yes, but not the same way he did. I think there are other ways people can protest. Ways that are safer.’ So when she saw kids getting bullied in the hallway, she would stop it immediately. She’d stop them from arguing and cursing in class, too. I asked her, ‘Does this help you or do anything for you?’ She said, ‘It’s not doing anything for me. It’s doing something for them. You never know what a person’s going through. One day, maybe they’ll be the ones telling someone else to stop. If everyone did that, we would be living in a better community in no time.’ When she said that I was like, ‘Wow, really?’ It was smart. I don’t even see some grown-ups doing that. And she got that idea from the activist she looked up to.

My junior year at Normandy High School, my favorite teacher had us write an essay answering the question, ‘How are you different and how are you similar to one of the victims of police killings?’ I chose Trayvon Martin. At first, I didn’t really write much. I went into small details, like, ‘We were both young kids.’ My teacher handed it to me and said, ‘Take it back. Write something better. I know it’s in you.’ So I looked up what Trayvon’s parents said about him and found out he was into sports like me. He was into reading, too, and I love to read. I turned my essay back in, but she wanted me to go even deeper. ‘What type of neighborhoods did we grow up in? What were our communities like?’ I watched a bunch of videos. His neighborhood was really similar to mine. He grew up with a bunch of kids around, too. A lot of us were confused about the purpose of the assignment. We wondered what she was looking for. And she said, ‘That’s the point. It’s up to you what you decide.’ I thought she was telling us that something bad was going to happen to us. One student said, ‘It’s not about something bad happening. It’s about how anything can happen. The way we grow up, how good we are, doesn’t matter.

Being from St. Louis, I feel like I have to show people that kids aren’t out here doing bad things. I’m from St. Louis and I’m going to college. This city has become something bigger because of Michael Brown’s death. I want people to say, ‘Oh, he’s from St. Louis. That’s amazing!’

This city has become something bigger because of Michael Brown’s death.

My sophomore year I had an engineering class and we had a project where we had to make a video about different types of jobs. I got welding. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but when I looked at videos I was like, ‘Wow, this is cool.’ Since then I’ve always told the school counselor, Miss Lombardo, that I wanted to do it. She told me Ranken Technical College is the best school to try. I went to an open house and realized that I didn’t want to do it after all. It was something that I could watch all day, any day. But when I got to try it, I knew I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. A small part of me always wanted to build things, so then I tried plumbing. When I went to another open house I thought I was just going to be fixing pipes, but I learned that plumbers help build homes, houses, and hotels. I was like, ‘This is it.’ I start in a few weeks. I’m so excited.