A little background on what qualifies me to write this. I was born in the projects. I was born in a housing project called Terrace Village in Pittsburgh, Pa. There I live until I was 9. I know what it’s like growing up in the hood.

Life didn’t get better at that point. I moved to a worse public housing project called “Northview Heights”. I lived there until I was 18 when I left for college. Since then, I’ve only been back three times and none in the last decade.

A Vocabulary Lesson To Discuss Growing Up In The Hood

Some terminology for the uninformed masses. “Public housing project” is the official term for where I grew up. “Subsidized housing” is another official term for the place.

Most people refer to these places as the “ghetto” or the “hood”. While that’s a correct description, but not all hoods and ghettos are public housing projects.

In this article I use the words “hood”, “project” and “ghetto” interchangeably. All projects are ghettos and hoods, but not all ghettos and hoods are projects. There are shitty neighborhoods all over the country.

These are the ghettos and hoods. You gotta be a special kind of broke to live where the government subsidizes your rent and utilities.

To me they all mean the same thing: a fucked up place that I would never want to live again. The projects destroy the future of most people. The following is an effective but gross oversimplification:

People promote ignorant ass values, have kids early, those kids get indoctrinated with those same ignorant values, and the cycle repeats itself for generations.

But I made it out. Survived is more like it because there are many things that can imprison you in the hood forever. I could have got a girl pregnant as a teen, got arrested, or got killed. It wasn’t easy, but I avoided all these things.

I learned things from that environment which give me a significant advantage in civilized society. This isn’t book learning. This is the type of education you can only experience, survive and say to yourself, “Never again.”

I give these lessons to you.

The 5 Lessons I Learned From Growing Up In The Hood

1. Good manners go a long way growing up in the hood

I fought a lot as a kid. That’s just par for the course growing up in the hood. I would have fought a lot more if it wasn’t for one simple phrase: “My bad”. For those of you that don’t speak hood, “My bad” is the equivalent of saying “I’m sorry.”

You bump somebody in a crowd? ‘My bad’ goes a long way. Step on someone’s foot on a crowded bus? He might get mad, but you can cool it quick by just saying “My bad”.

Say something a little too offensive that gets guys in the mood to fight? Just say “My bad” and dial it down. It’s amazing what an apology can do to cool tempers in the hood.

This dude just saved his cartoon life.

In the hood you never know who gives a fuck and who doesn’t. While a guy might not have a gun, he might not care about catching an aggravated assault charge.

This is assuming you call the cops, which we avoided because it increased the likelihood of retaliation. Since I didn’t know who cared about staying out of jail, I just addressed everyone with basic respect.

Even if they didn’t return the favor, it taught me to keep a cool head to avoid unnecessary fights. I learned, via a powerful negative feedback loop, that it’s better to treat people with respect.

Fighting because someone feels disrespected makes you less likely to be disrespectful in the future. 

2. Safety and security is an illusion growing up in the hood

My house had doors and locks. That didn’t keep people from breaking in and stealing shit. School buses were places I remember fending for my life in fights.

My mother kept food on the table, but her temper and physical abuse left me hurt as much some street fights. I never got comfortable thinking there was a such thing as safety.

I remember some kids broke into my locker in the dead of winter and put my coat in the toilet. When I was 11 I got robbed by a crackhead at knife point for a calzone. There are many other incidents, but I want to make a point.

I internalized something at a very young age: nothing is ever safe. People will take stuff or try to hurt you, even if you didn’t think they ever would.

Most people have trouble accepting the following: nothing in this world is safely and securely yours. You can be robbed, neglected or betrayed. Once you internalize this, you learn to value everything. 

I think this was the guy, but he’s a little too white.

3. I learned about money growing up in the hood:

Money is not the root of all evil. Not having money is.

I didn’t experience violence because wealth made people bored. 

I’m not saying that people with money don’t cause harm. But I am ABSOLUTELY saying that they cause less of it. There are purely evil people in the world but most crime—especially violent crime—is committed for monetary reasons.

That drive by that claimed an innocent person’s life? A drug dealing dispute probably started it. That armed robbery at the convenience store for 400 bucks that cost some dude his life? 400 bucks ain’t shit—unless you’re super broke.

I once watched thugs beat and rob a pizza delivery body on Christmas Eve! That’s gotta be worth 100 bucks, tops.

Mugging delivery drivers was so common that most places didn’t deliver to the projects. The few that did sent two people—one to carry the pizza and the other to carry the gun.

There probably is some middle class kid in a low crime neighborhood that does the same shit, but he’s just crazy and likely not trying to survive.

Everyone’s gotta make their own way. This means that some people do far more harm when they’re broke than when they’re not.

Growing up in the hood exposes you to a lot of guys like this.

Crime does pay. That’s probably why the threat of prison rape doesn’t stop it.

4. Even though you’re growing up in the hood, It can ALWAYS be worse.

My home situation was slightly better than average when compared to the typical ghetto home life. My mom didn’t always work, but she took temp work when she could and I was never hungry.

I didn’t live with my dad but he was in the picture. After this asshole hurt my sister and I badly, my mom didn’t bring any men around. Life wasn’t good, but I could look around me and see it could be a LOT worse.

The thing about living in the projects is that everyone knows a lot about everyone. You know who’s mom is a crackhead, prostitute or drug dealer. While everyone in the projects obviously has a fucked up life situation, some people are WAY worse off.

If you don’t live in the projects, it’s easy to believe that everyone around you has a better life. But you know who’s fucked up if you live in the hood. This knowledge makes you appreciate little good shit that you have.

For example, I used to have a friend that had all the newest video games. That can make a kid jealous, but we also had to eat at my house. My mom decided to spend money on food rather than games—a wise decision.

That’s the type of situation that makes you appreciate something most people take for granted, like food. Living in close proximity to other people with problems can drag you down. It can also foster tremendous gratitude and show you that your situation isn’t that bad.

5. Growing up in the hood is like poker: It’s about how you play the hand you’re dealt.

Good starting cards help, but they don’t determine how much you’ll win. They don’t even determine if you’ll survive the game.

There are lots of people born in the ghetto every year. Most continue the cycle and don’t make it out. A few do a little better but only barely and still have their ties to the ghetto .

Then there are those who make the ghetto a distant memory. I can proudly say that I am part of this last group.

Growing up in the hood teaches you concentration.

He had a good hand, but got distracted by pussy. Now look at his stack!

But that shit ain’t easy. On top of the physical dangers you have to navigate, you also have to undo lots of damaging programming. Like attitudes about money.

I got $55,000 in insurance money when my father died. No one ever taught a broke project kid how to handle money. In 18 months I was broke as hell and over drawing my bank account.

Overcoming these challenges takes time but once you beat them, you are invincible.

There’s another guy from my neighborhood who got in to Cooper Union college. On my first romp in college I got into Georgetown and University of Rochester.

Today we’re both doing great.  We both started out living on the same street in the same fucked up ass public housing project.

It’s not easy, but anyone can change their life.

For more life lessons, grab my book.