I grew up in a suburban neighborhood outside the city of Birmingham, Alabama.
I am white.
My family is middle class.
I went to a relatively well-funded public high school that provided Advanced Placement classes that thoroughly prepared me for college.
I didn’t have a college fund, but I had supportive parents and counselors exposing me to the scholarships I could earn and the loans that would cover the rest.
College was never a “maybe” for me; it was a matter of where.
College meant a degree, and a degree meant the opportunity to pursue any career I chose.
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I worked hard to get a scholarship to Auburn, and I earned my place here. However, I never earned the high-quality teachers, technology and counselors that made it possible for me to get to where I am.
They were given to me, and they are privileges not everyone has.
On New Year’s Eve a friend and I were robbed at gunpoint as we sat in her silver Volkswagen beetle next to Avondale Brewery in downtown Birmingham at 9:30 p.m.
They forcibly opened the passenger side door.
We saw three men.
At least two of them had guns.
One gun was pressed against my arm. They took $70 from me and $20 from Rachel.
To be clear, Avondale is not a part of the downtown area that suburban moms forbid their children from. There are successful restaurants, breweries and coffee shops in Avondale where people from the entire Birmingham metropolitan area go.
It’s proof of the revitalization that’s been happening in downtown Birmingham in recent years.
It is, however, adjacent to neighborhoods without nearly as much money and many families living below the poverty line.
I grew up feeling, for the most part, safe in my environment.
I felt comfortable going to the Wal-Mart five minutes from my house alone at midnight.
I was careless about locking my car.
My family usually kept the backdoor unlocked for convenience.
A safe community to live in is a privilege I, naively, overlooked until this experience.
Growing up in a community in which incidents like this are commonplace must shape a person to some extent. Becoming desensitized to violence is inevitable when it’s an everyday occurrence, and when someone is desensitized to violence it unavoidably becomes easier to partake in.
I’ll never know what that $70 went toward.
It could have been drug money. It could have been the co-pay on their 6-month-old’s doctor visit.
It would be presumptuous to assume either.
People are complex. Struggling to provide for your family is a horrible feeling.
Desperation is a strong motivator.
I’m not justifying their actions, but it is imperative to remember that maybe they weren’t afforded the same privileges as I was.
Maybe at age 12 they didn’t have a steady home.
Maybe at age 16 they didn’t have teachers or counselors to tell them about the college financial aid available to them.
Maybe at age 22 $7.25 per hour wasn’t enough to feed their family of five and pay the bills, too.
I refuse to reduce those men to the crime they committed. It’s possible that they felt they had no other choice or no other options.
It could have been a matter of survival.
But whether it was or not, recognizing privilege is the first step to helping those without it.
Jessica Ballard is the copy editor at The Plainsman. You can reach her at opinion@ThePlainsman.com
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