The first shot came early, care of my parents, who run a Baptist church in our Brooklyn neighborhood. My mom and my dad, both immigrants from Haiti, have always been devout. Before they had a space for their church, they held services in the living room of our Bed-Stuy apartment.
They were strict. Way stricter, I now realize, than the parents of any of my friends. I was treated to death stares if I was fidgety at a church or at a family friend’s house. The television could not be turned on until the weekend. And even then, I had only two hours after I’d finished my homework. I was not allowed to play sports because they wanted me to focus on education. (As I grew up, they loosened up: I could watch TV at any time and I played soccer from 7th to 11th grade.)
In 2016, when I was 12 years old, we traveled to Haiti to build a church, this one high upon a hill in the village of Tavern, an hour away from Les Cayes. I remember the gleaming pews we installed there, the lightbulbs we screwed in, and the brand new piano keyboard we bought for the community. You cannot deny the privileges of being American when you see Haitian children weep over new shoes we deem uncool.
My parents lived by the values they instilled in me — charity, civility, responsibility, and tenacity — and their moral code follows me whenever I step out my door. I have plenty of Manhattanite friends whose families are wealthier than mine, but as my mother says my greatest inheritance is her belief in the Word.