Published: Jul 03, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Jul 04, 2011 06:49 PM
My mom burst into tears when she answered the front door at 8 a.m. one Saturday morning last year. Two officers were standing on our doorstep, waiting to put me in handcuffs for an incident at school.
I sat there in shock, feeling impotent. I had only moved to the United States two months earlier after leaving the Dominican Republic. I could barely understand what the policemen were saying. I just knew I was in trouble.
I never thought that day, one of the worst of my life at the time, would be a turning point for me. From that mistake, I met people who taught me English and helped me transition to life in America.
Last year was already one of the hardest I ever had because of the changes I was facing. I struggled with the language, and I missed the food from my country - the taste of pastelitos filled with delicate yellow cheese and chicken.
During my PE class I was hanging outside of the gym with one of my friends, and another student handed me a prescription pain pill and said it would make me high.
Not knowing, I swallowed it. The last thing I remember was being at the girls' bathroom, surrounded by two female students. One of the girls got so scared that she went to the principal's office and called her parents.
That weekend, the police came knocking.
My 9-year-old sister asked my mom, "Where are they taking him?"
She didn't answer.
I told them not to worry.
As the officers took me away, I wondered how I got myself into this situation. I had never been in trouble in the Dominican Republic, but here, just a few months after arriving, I was headed to the police office with my hands behind my back.
What would my grandmother say?
After getting my fingerprints taken, I met my mom at the magistrate's office. He didn't take his eyes off of me for one minute.
"You shouldn't be here with your mom," he told me, I remember clearly. "You came to this country to study, not to be wandering around out of class; not to be a clown to others."
I went to court and accepted a plea bargain, pleading guilty to get a lower punishment - 48 hours of community service and two months of probation.
I had a lot of time to think about what I did while completing the service, and I decided not to get into any other problems.
I wrote a letter to the girl I scared, letting her now that wasn't proud of what happened.
Community service opened some wonderful doors to me.
Thanks to that situation I met a woman, Liz Carter, who saw potential in me and convinced me to join the Chapel Hill Youth Council.
She told me she was going to put me on the right track, and she introduced me to a good friend of mine, Graig Meyer, who is one of the leaders of the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program and the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI).
I joined YLI and was blessed with the opportunity to attend a summer leadership camp. I couldn't speak English as well as I do now, but I learned a lot and I did my best to communicate with the other campers.
Now I'm well known in YLI for my hard work, and it's been amazing to be a member of Chapel Hill Youth Council.
I even got to give a speech in front of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education about the new End-of-Course test schedule.
Now I'm working to earn a scholarship to go to college and get my law degree. In the meantime, I'm going to try out for the CHHS baseball team and see if I can develop some new skills.
And I'm not ashamed of my mistake. Without it, I might not be as successful as I am today. Now I can I tell other people about the importance of believing in themselves, working hard in school, not worrying what others think about you, finding yourself and doing what makes you happy. Sammy J. Marquez is a rising junior at Chapel Hill High and a native of the Dominican Republic. He is a member of the Blue Ribbon Youth Leadership Institute and the Chapel Hill Youth Council. Contact him in c/o The Chapel Hill News at email@example.com
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