LAWRENCE — Growing up in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, Ernesto Quinonez said it was thought there were only two ways of leaving the “hood” — dead or joining the Army.
But he found another way. He got an eduction.
Quinonez, author of “Chango’s Fire” and “Bodega Dreams, “ spoke to Lawrence High students yesterday about activism in today’s world as part of the White Fund lecture series.
”Activism today is bettering yourself. When you read and write, you better yourself, then you get what you want and what you need. That’s the power of education,” he told them.
”Bodega Dreams” was selected as a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers title; Borders Bookstore Original new selections; New York Public Library, 25 Books to Remember and the New York Times, Notable Books.
Quinonez was born in Ecuador to a Puerto Rican mother and Ecuadorian father and grew up in Spanish Harlem.
Living next to the Upper East Side and seeing youngsters his age attend private high schools and colleges, Quinonez said his major obstacle was low self-esteem and not believing he could go to college.
”It was only when I realized that I’m just as good as they are, or better because I didn’t have to buy it, I can create it,” Quinonez said.
During his talk, he encouraged the students not to be “overwhelmed with what you see or hear, you’re just as good as they are, it’s inequality of income,” he said. “You get it back through education, which is the most non-violent way of fighting back.”
”The opportunities are there, you just have to take them. You go out and do something amazing. It starts with caring, education and knowing what you want,” Quinonez said.
Quinonez told students his first job was as a bicycle messenger earning $3.35 an hour. He worked alongside men who were older than him and had families.