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Despite Naysayers, Students Determined To Make A Better Hartford


Helen Ubiñas

November 16, 2008

The other day, Xiomara Colon patiently tapped away on a computer while her boyfriend, Emanuel Morales, paced behind her.

How could they say that stuff? Who do they think they are?

Colon kept typing, calmly responding to readers who had written mean-spirited, anonymous responses to a Courant story about the Hartford High students organizing marches against violence in the city.

Useless grandstanding, the posters concluded. More of the same, added others.

Well Xiomara, how about really making a difference, rather than engaging in pointless 'feel good' posturing," one reader wrote.

Colon's response was more measured than anyone should have expected from a 16-year-old under attack.

"I see that our actions have brought up a lot of negative opinions," she wrote. "One thing I have to ask you all is what are you doing to improve your city?"

I couldn't help but smile at her spunk; this girl is fierce. But I had to be honest with her, Morales and co-organizer Naiomi Serrano when we spoke the other day.

While I appreciated their passion, even I had my doubts about how much impact these marches would have. We march to bring our troops home, and they're still there. We march to stop the murders in Hartford, and the killings continue.

We seem to have marched ourselves into a corner.

They should understand, I said, suddenly sounding a lot older and more cynical than I had meant to, a lot of people have tried a lot of things to change this city. And yet, here we are.

Colon, a pretty girl with an intensity far beyond her years, leveled her gaze.

Change, she said, locking her eyes on mine, takes time.

"It may not happen in your lifetime, or even mine. But we can't give up."

As I continued to be schooled by the trio, I considered the national conversation we're having about change. As hopeful and refreshing as it is, it's all sort of vague, isn't it? Theoretical.

But here, on a rainy afternoon in a city so many have given up on, was a call to action — and not from where you'd expect.

A lot of things in this city are done in the name of young people. But for these threeand so many other kids in Hartford, poverty and violence aren't just problems in search of a program. They're personal.

It was Colon's teen mom, who struggled to juggle work and school while raising her. It's brothers and cousins and friends who die in their neighborhoods, on their streets. It's dreams of becoming lawyers, psychiatrists, social workers and yeah, even politicians, that they're determined to protect.

"You have to believe that you can make a difference," Colon insists.

Yes, we can. That sounds familiar.

Is it naive to think you can march to change? Maybe. But if you really listen, it's clear they aren't stopping there because they have a lot riding on their city getting better.

So, when we throw our hands up in disgust and defeat and declare Hartford a lost cause, remember that we're not just writing off a city, we're dismissing a whole generation that hasn't even begun to fight.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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