"The Projects Made You Tough"

By Tim Whitaker

By Tim Whitaker
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Feb. 4, 2004

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Education: B.A., Temple University, 1974; M.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1981.

Public housing project: Queen Lane Housing Project.

Years she lived there: 1959-1972.

How she remembers it: "We lived in one of the first stand-alone houses that was public housing. It was part of a pilot project. My father never got past sixth grade. I saw a lot of disparities between our situation and those who lived in the nearby high-rise projects. People were made to feel different there. There wasn't enough support for those who were trying to live a good life. What I learned is that every public housing situation needs strong community advocates. You need to be surrounded with fighters. People need to feel opportunity. My high school counselor told me I should forget college and be a waitress, so that's what I did. I waitressed at the Trailways bus terminal. My Caucasian friend went to the same counselor and was told to try to go to college. It took me a long time to realize I could go too. My uncle came home from Vietnam and told me I could do it--and I believed him. I tell people that I'm bilingual because of where I grew up. People say, 'You speak Spanish?' I tell them no, but I do speak two languages--corporate language and the language of the street. People can't pull the wool over my eyes about anything--in a boardroom or on the street. Certain things about growing up this way never leave you. I still double-bolt all my doors no matter where I am. In restaurants I only sit in seats where I can see everything. You learn to watch your back. Some things are just forever."


Occupation: President, Crawley Haskins Sloan PR and advertising firm.

Age: 57.

Education: St. Joseph's Prep, 1963; B.A., St. Joseph's University, 1967; M.A., Temple University, 1983.

Public housing project: Richard Allen Homes.

Years he lived there: 1946-1964.

How he remembers it: "When I was young, the Richard Allen Homes were very well-maintained. They would distribute garden tools and grass seed so we could have green on the small plots in front of our residences. Then one day they came in with trucks and poured cement over all the plots. There used to be these handsome sheds at all the entrances and exits where you would put your garbage and trash. Then one day they tore those down and put in big ugly dumpsters. Next they pushed the schedule for emptying the dumpsters further and further back. Soon the dumpsters began to overflow. Then after a while they stopped repairing broken windows in a timely fashion. Things went into serious decline. By the early '60s you could see things were never going to get better. A lot of the reason housing projects became bad places is because budgets get cut and services break down. It happened at Richard Allen in stages. I got lucky because a nun in the Catholic school I went to asked me to take an entrance test to get into St. Joe's Prep. My mother said she'd give me $15 if I passed the test. That $15 was like $10,000 today. So I made sure I passed that test, and it got me into St. Joe's Prep and on the road to a good education. There were a lot of kids in the projects who were smart and talented but didn't get that kind of lucky break."


Occupation: Former public school principal; New Jersey head of public school security.

Age: 57.

Education: Benjamin Franklin High School; B.A., Bloomfield College, 1968; M.A., Temple University, 1974.

Public housing project: Richard Allen Homes.

Years he lived there: 1946-1964.

How he remembers it: "The projects were a very sports-minded place to grow up. We had baseball, football and basketball teams. One section of the projects would play another section. Competition was a big part of the life. Later there were drugs, but the guys on heroin never came around and bothered us. I had my own rough days. I joined a gang, caused my share of trouble. I was angry because I didn't have a father, and I was out to prove I didn't need one. Now that I'm a father of five I know the importance of fatherhood and how foolish that thinking was. I was mad too because we were on relief and the relief workers were very disrespectful to us. They didn't give us our dignity. In their eyes, we were poor and not deserving. You got that attitude from a lot of people, and it could really beat you down or make you angry. A lot of guys didn't make it out of the projects. I almost didn't make it out of the projects. I still have the projects in me, but only in the best way now. My kids are educated and hold all kinds of advanced degrees. But when they were growing up, they had to go through me to get an okay--and I had the projects in me. I made sure they played sports and competed. Years after I left the projects, my mother died and a whole lot of my old friends from the projects showed up. They embraced me, stood with me, and it was then I realized how important that time was and how much these people meant. I knew everything was going to be okay. Growing up in the projects makes you tough. The whole trick is to use that toughness to your advantage."

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1. Anonymous said... on Sep 28, 2013 at 09:17PM

“Read about RAP!!!”


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