Springfield From within

By Devin Thompson

To the students of Commerce High School, Springfield is a very normal place. A city filled with all different races, all of whom are respected and accepted. It is pickup basketball games and dancing classes. It is pride. It is full of hard workers whose rough hands reflect their long hours. It is love. It is a place of family and friends. It is laughter. It is filled with “firsts”. It is also filled with “lasts.” It is struggle and oppression. To many, it is underrated. More importantly, it is home.

To outsiders, Springfield is much different.

Often times, we are failed by our own false perceptions. We follow the narrative that the media portrays without having the proper experience nor the authority to make such assumptions. Our judgement is made from a vantage point that places us far away from the scene, up upon a hill, shouting down repetitive media headlines about drug seizures and lives lost at the hands of gun violence. These words come to represent a city of over 100,000. These stories, in bold font, misrepresent the lives of young students who, despite the pressure of these words, are determined to change the narrative. It is the voices of these students who will re-write the story of their city.

Though the city’s infrastructure has been neglected by years of socio-economic hardship with the outsourcing of factory jobs, the people within those buildings are still very much alive. Upon hearing their city referred to as “run-down” one of the students replied, feeling disrespected, “we aren’t run-down.”

One student recalls being at a event in Connecticut when a stranger, around the same age as himself, asked where he was from. Upon saying Springfield, the person turned to his group a friends, whispering, “He’s probably already murdered someone by now.”

The student, in awe of the power of this rhetoric, says, “I hadn’t talked to him for five minutes and he already decided I was a murderer.”

Therein is where the problem lies. By generalizing an entire city, you are attacking the thousands of people within who are fighting to be heard each day.  Their aspirations, and more importantly their potential, mustn’t be defined by the outward appearance of their city.

Commerce High School is no exception. This fact is crucial in understanding the spirit of Springfield, particularly the energy of its youth. To the students, their disadvantages are a mere circumstance. They are aware that other schools have more opportunities than them but they don’t allow injustice to stifle them.

Though the city struggles, it must be understood that these young adults truly love the place they call home. They don’t see it the way outsiders do. It might not provide the means for a ready path to success, but it is the centralization of the people, places and memories that matter to them. As one male student says, “Sure, I want to leave...but I’ll always come back.” Their hometown means no less to them than your hometown means to you.

The students I have worked with for the past semester proved this to me. They are wise far beyond their years and find ways to channel their struggle through a variety of individualized passions. Whether it was writing poetry, playing basketball, listening to heavy metal, rapping or teaching the art of dance to others, the students of Commerce High find ways to be heard.

Next time the media sheds a negative light on Springfield, highlighting the issues of crime and poverty, remember the words these students use to describe the city they call home. Reflect upon the lively souls that are eager to break free from these appropriated stereotypes and turn the microphone back into the face of their oppressor.

Listen as these students say, with conviction, “We are not run-down.”