Skip to content

Weekly dose of self-improvement

Sign up
living in the hood

20 signs that you grew up in the hood

Here are 20 signs that you grew up in the hood. But if you grew up in the hood, you don’t really need these to know.

Ed Latimore
Ed Latimore
Writer, retired boxer, self-improvement enthusiast

Here are 20 classic signs that you grew up in the hood.

A lot of people have misconceptions about what life is like growing up in this place.

I was born in the projects and lived there until I was 18, so trust me.

My elemetary school was in the heart of the public housing project I where I lived and my middle school was a feeder school for kids from the poor neighborhoods and projects around me. I didn’t really interact with people outside of the hood until I got to high school.

I know the ghetto as well as any crackhead, drug dealer, or cop. This isn’t a good or bad thing. It’s just part of my life.

In this post, I’ll list out the telltale signs that you grew up in the hood. People who grew up in the ghetto don’t need this checklist. We don’t need to be reminded of the robberies, family dysfunctions, drive by shootings, and random (mostly negative) run ins with law enforcement.

However, it’s nice to see how far you’ve come and what you’ve had to go through. I don’t think people should glamorize trauma or focus on it, but you should never forget that your path has given you advantages and perspectives like no other.

For everyone else who somehow stumbled upon this article, use my checklist to get a better understanding of the hood and many of the typical experiences there. I’m not asking for your sympathy or pity. Just your understanding that the American way of life can be significantly different for poor people—especially poor black people.

Warnings, caveats, and disclaimers

  1. I don’t have first-hand experience with all of these, however, I am no more than 1 degree of separation away from someone who has experienced all of these. In other words, it either happened to me, or I witnessed someone I knew go through it.

    If my list is incomplete, this is why. I’d rather be incomplete on account of lacking certain experiences rather than inaccurate because of exaggeration.
  2. The hood is largely composed of black people. I am a black man. This does not mean that these experiences are unique to African-Americans. As far as I know, there are broke people everywhere and of every race.

    Growing up in the hood doesn’t mean that you’re black any more than being black means that you grew up in the hood.

    Sure, there’s a greater probability you experience some things based on who you are, but that’s a probabilistic relationship. Not a deterministic one. In other words, you may see yourself in this post and be white as snow. On the flip side, you may be black as the ace of spades and relate to nothing here.
  3. I’m 37 years old. I haven’t lived in the hood since I was 18 and have only been back there a handful of times. All of my first-hand experience—and most of my second-hand experience—was acquired at a young age.

    This doesn’t make it any more or less valid, but I’m aware enough of things to know that things can change. Whether or not they have is a different question entirely.

Note: As I started writing this, it turned into a small bit of therapy. That’s neither here nor there, but I felt it was important to mention.

20 signs you grew up in the hood

  1. You have the same last name as your mother.

    Assuming she wasn’t raped, this means: Your daddy wasn’t shit, she’s not sure exactly who he was, or she’s got a bunch of kids with different men.
  2. You were raised by a single mother.

    People like to say that it should be called a single-parent household for reasons that mostly center around their sensitivities, but the reality is that most single parent homes are headed by the mother.I don’t say this to place sole blame on the woman (she shares the blame with the absent father), but merely to describe the reality of the situation.

    In the year 2020, there were 7.294 million families below the poverty line. 3.63 million of them were headed by women.
  3. You have close family members in jail

    When I was 5, I witnessed my cousin get handed a life sentence for murder. A few years later his brother would follow the same path. My mother once dated a dude we used to go with her to visit in jail and I’ve seen my mother arrested as well for fighting in the street.

    My family experience with jail even runs to white collar crime. I’ve got an uncle that did a five year stretch for bank fraud. Dealing with prison is part of growing up in the hood, even if you’ve never been there yourself.
  4. You were doing active shooter drills in school before they hit the rest of America.

    My elementary school had metal detectors.Gang violence was such a big deal our middle school had uniforms to avoid gang violence over colors.

    Different reasons for the drills. Same problem
  5. Pizza men came in twos

    Back before Uber eats, we used to have pizza delivery boys.In the hood, if yours got delivered to, there were two delivery men—one to carry the pizza and one to carry the gun.
  6. Public transportation didn’t come to your neighborhood

    The buses simply didn’t come to my part of town for a large part of the 90s.

    Things were so bad that the public transportation company in my city decided to cut routes to a region where everyone is almost guaranteed to need it because poor people live in the hood and poor people don’t have cars.
  7. Cops don’t come when they’re called

    Or they’re late as hell.Unless there’s a murder, calling the police is a waste of time.

    And even then…
  8. You survived the summers because of the free lunch programs

    Once school was out, two meals of the day were gone—breakfast and lunch.

    A lot of hoods had free lunch programs, so there was a place to eat during the summer, and kids didn’t go hungry.
  9. You’ve been robbed (bonus points if at gunpoint)

    I was robbed at knife and gunpoint before I was 18.

    t’s scary, but it’s part of life.This also makes you suspicious of everyone around you and keeps you on your toes.
  10. You stop freaking out about the sound of gunshots

    Almost every night of my life growing up, I heard gunfire at night.I eventually just got used to it.

    I’ve been outside during drive by shootings and had to hit the ground. I’ve seen cars chasing each other shooting at one another. Gunfire is just a part of life living in these places.
  11. You’ve witnessed someone die

    I’ve been fortunate enough to never see someone get shot. However, one of my earliest memories is of watching a kid get hit by a car as a police chase was taking place. What saved me is that for whatever reason, I always listened to my mom and she told me to never cross the street. I was only 3.

    Apparently, I blocked this incident out of my mind for almost 10 years. Then one day, it came back to me. I don’t ever remember not knowing, but maybe it’s impossible to remember when you forgot something that your blocked out to protect you.
  12. You knew someone who smoked or sold crack

    I had family on drugsI’ve seen neighbors on them. I was even babysat by a crackhead for a while growing up.

    One of my best friends growing up was one of the biggest drug dealers in the city.

    I’ve never used drugs. My only issue was drinking. But the reason why I never will is because I witnessed them do so much damage. I’m scared of what they’d do to me and anyone I’m close to. Alcohol was close enough.

    Read more about my encounters with crackheads
  13. You’re street smart

    The only way to get street smart is to spend time around street shit

    Being street smart means being able to read human nature & protect yourself from the worst.You only learn that by making missteps and mistakes with people.

    Learn more about becoming street smart
  14. You’ve been in fights (bonus points if jumped)

    The kind where kids are picking up bricks and bottles. I have a scar over my right eye from where a kid bricked me when I was 5 while we were fighting. No one in the hood believes in a fair fight, even if they started it.

    Learn more about fighting in the hood
  15. You know how to be poor

    I watch people trip about recession this and gas prices that.

    I’m not saying that shit isn’t hard to deal with, but when you grow up on food stamps in subsidized housing, you know how to be poor and hustle it out of the mud if you have to.

    Learn how to stop being poor
  16. You went into adulthood financially ignorant

    I didn’t even know what a mortgage was before I was 17.

    I knew nothing about a credit score or how credit works I write about how I blew $55k of insurance money spending money on dumb shit because of this.I tell the story here
  17. You had to rely on the food bank and Goodwill

    I’ve carried those boxes of assorted non-perishables back from the food bank. I’ve bought school clothes from Goodwill. I’ve been cold because I couldn’t replace shit. I’ve been hungry.

    All hood kids know this limitation.
  18. You’ve been abused

    Due to all the factors above, a lot of abuse goes on and most of it gets normalized. And then these kids grow up thinking that treating and talking to their children that way is acceptable.

    My mom dated a guy who beat us down pretty badly (as very young children). This is the guy I went with her to visit in prison multiple times. My mom wasn’t much better.

    She and my sister would literally fight once she became a teenage to the point where the police were often called. My situation wasn’t even the worst of the people I knew.

    I’ve known girls who were abused by their fathers or uncles. It’s easier for them to be victims because hood culture is already dysfunctional and marginalized—especially African-Americans.

    There’s also another side of abuse. I know kids who were never held accountable or disciplined for anything. They only had terrible role models and no one to show them how to grow into effective humans.Either way, it’s terrible.

    Another generation gets indoctrinated into abuse and ignorance.This calls for forgiveness. Read my articles on the power of forgiveness here
  19. You’ve been evicted or had your utilities shut off

    I have come home to those eviction notices many times. Eventually, you just get used to it.

    I grew up in subsidized housing, where either you get evicted or not. All of the utilities come together. However, I had family who lived in Section 8 housing (housing where the government pays a portion) and they regularly got their lights, gas, or water shut off.

    I think one of the worst things I witnessed was people just getting used to this style of living. But it was never to save money. It was just because it was easier to deal with no electricity than to consistently work and pay bills.

    I’ve seen my mom sell some wild shit to ensure we weren’t evicted, but not everyone could do it.

    Read my lessons from working at a homeless shelter
  20. Trauma

    I hate that trauma has become a buzzword today. But it’s real if you grow up in this environment. You don’t realize how messed up you are until you leave that environment.

    Until then, everything is a fucked up normal

Read the rest of my articles on living in the hood

Ed Latimore
About the author

Ed Latimore

I’m a writer, competitive chess player, Army veteran, physicist, and former professional heavyweight boxer. My work focuses on self-development, realizing your potential, and sobriety—speaking from personal experience, having overcome both poverty and addiction.

Follow me on Twitter.