Young. Black. Poor. From Oakland. If someone heard that description, they probably wouldn't picture someone well-spoken and educated. But I want to change the way the world looks at people like me.
When I was born, according to the U.S. Census, I had a 30 percent chance of being born into poverty because my parents were African-American. And I was poor.
Having no money introduced me to a life of humility. I was constantly borrowing from others and asking for favors. Hunger was no stranger to me, either.
I attended school in a district that cut $122 million from its budget in one year. Forced to pursue my education in Oakland, a city where crime, drugs and violence are regular scenery, I had given up on school by the 11th grade.
Just when I thought I would never return to the classroom, I borrowed a psychology book from a mentor of mine. I read that in the past people didn't believe in free will. Instead, they attributed everyday events to fate. It helped me realize that the amount of power we have over our lives is based on the decisions we make every day. I decided to take fate into my own hands.
So I transferred to a continuation school to make up enough credits to graduate. During this time, I shared my room with a friend who I call "Brother."
At the age of 15, my Brother got kicked out of Oakland schools for fighting, so he didn't have anything constructive to do with his time. In the morning I'd wake up to the bubbling sound of him sparking a bong to smoke before I even left for school. I want things to change for my Brother, and I wish he wanted that for himself.
I've received my diploma, and now I plan on going to college. My education is the first step on the road to redefining my community and its values.
With a Perspective, I'm Carlyn Bynes.
Carlyn Bynes is 18 years old and lives in Oakland. His commentary was produced by Youth Radio.