MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, a special rebroadcast of my conversation with Lila Downs. This multi-talented performer recently earned a Grammy nomination for her album, "Shake Away." In September, she spoke with us about the album and her career. We're going to bring you that conversation next.
But first, at this time of year, many of us resolve to try new things - to meet new people, discover new places - but there's also a lot to gain from taking a second look at what we have already. That's the topic of our latest essay from the award-winning series, This I Believe. Here with more is series curator Jay Allison. Hi, Jay.
JAY ALLISON: Hi, Michel. More than 50,000 people have sent in essays by now to our series, and some of them write about how they've spent years searching for their beliefs, only to find they've been carrying them with them all along. And that's true for Majora Carter. Her belief is grounded in a place. It's a place she once repudiated, but when she saw that place disrespected by others she rose to its defense. Here's Majora Carter with her essay for This I Believe.
Ms. MAJORA CARTER: I believe you don't have to move out of your neighborhood to live in a better one. I'm from the South Bronx. At seven, my neighborhood was the beginning and end of my universe. It was a small town to me, my own version of "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood," maybe a little rough around the edges. Everyone knew each other, so if you got into trouble at school, chances are your mom knew about it before you got home. I felt watched over. I felt safe.
But just before I turned eight, things began to change. I watched two buildings on my block burn down. I remember seeing my neighbor, Pito(ph), go up and down the fire escape to get people out. Where were the firemen? Where was the truck? Somebody must have called them.
That same summer, after serving two tours in Vietnam, my brother was killed in the South Bronx. He was shot above the left eye and we hope died instantly. People who could, moved out of the neighborhood, and all I wanted to do was get out too. I used education to get away from there and got good at avoiding the topic of where I was from. To be from the South Bronx meant that you were a pimp, a pusher or a prostitute. It felt like a stain.
After college, I didn't want to come back to the South Bronx, but in order to afford graduate school I had to. I was almost 30 and could only afford to live at my parent's home. It felt like a defeat and I hated it. At the same time, the city was planning a huge waste facility here, and no one seemed to care, including many of us who lived here. They were like, well, it's a poor community, what's the difference? I was outraged. It propelled me to act. It moved my spirit in a way that I didn't know was possible, and it changed my beliefs. It changed the way I felt about myself and my community. I worked hard with others who felt the same way, and together we defeated the plan.
After that, I realized it's just as important to fight for something as it is to fight against something. So we dreamed up a new park on the site of an illegal garbage dump, and after many community cleanups, along with $3 million from the city, we have one. And it's glorious. It was the seed from which many new plans for our community have grown.
Today, the South Bronx is no longer a stain. It's a badge of honor for me. I believe that where I'm from helps me to really see the world. Today, when I say I'm from the South Bronx, I stand up straight. This is home, and it always will be.
ALLISON: Majora Carter with her essay for This I Believe. Michel, Carter told us that right after Hunts Point Riverside Park(ph) was completed, she and her husband were married there. She walked through her neighborhood to the wedding accompanied by the bridal party playing African drums, while her husband and his party arrived in small boats built in the community.
Michel, we hope that Tell Me More listeners will make a resolution to write their essays and send them to us for our series. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison. Back to you, Michel.
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MARTIN: Thanks, Jay. You can find information about writing for the series and all the essays we've aired on the This I Believe page of npr.org. Jay Allison is co-editor with Dan Gediman, John Gregory and Viki Merrick of "This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women."
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