Friday, 19 June 2015

My American Adventure: Workshop in Port Washington pt 1

I'm still buzzing from the Family Court and Dilemmas of Shared Parenting workshop I attended in Port Washington earlier today. Last week I was told I would be attending the workshop. I didn't know what to expect but I knew that I would benefit from it.
Port Washington is in Long Island and close to the sea. I was super excited, especially because the workshop was being held at a yacht club.

I still thought it would be a casual affair so I didn't dress smart. How wrong was I. Although most of the women were dressed casually in maxi dresses, simple blouse and trousers, the men wore shirts, trousers and some wore suit and tie. I didn't feel out of a place though, I am just glad I didn't opt to wear jeans. That would have been too casual!

I enjoyed my walk from the station to the venue. I was in awe with the shops, houses and streets around me. It reminded me of  Arnold and Beeston Town Centre in my home city Nottingham. The town centre has a similar layout.

The houses were big and the neighbourhoods were quiet. It definitely looked like an area for people with a lot of money. There were a lot of big cars like Cadillacs, Jeeps and Range Rovers and other nice cars. particularly liked the look of the condos that were by the sea!

I loved the yacht club. It was very fancy inside and I started to imagine the kind of people that are members of this club. There was a tennis court and a lovely balcony outside of the building. I didn't take pictures inside because it would have been bad etiquette. There is a time and place to take pictures and inside of the building and during the workshop just wasn't the place..

 I arrived a little late so everyone had already started eating but as it was a lunch buffet, I was told to just go and help myself. There were waiters around taking drink orders and clearing our tables. Watching them reminded of my waitressing days.

The food was really nice, I particularly liked the tuna salad and the chicken salad but it wasn't like the ones I'm used to - it was a posh version lol but I enjoyed it.
There was a mixture of people from different professions at the workshop, mostly legal practitioners, mental health professionals, psychologists, social workers, judges, attorneys and university professors - approximately 200 people attended.

The workshop was organized by a family law firm and conducted by a family court judge and a law professor.I learned so much from the both of them about new proposals from the courts, what the judge requires from those who are dealing with family court proceedings and building a case and how to help your client deal with the divorce proceedings and custody battle they are in, for the best interests of the child(ren).

I want to share with you some of the things that I learned from both a legal and moral aspect but I'll have to write a separate blog post for that so I don't make this one too long.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Moment of reflection: My employment history

Today I found myself reflecting back on all the jobs that I've had from when I left school at 16 years old until now. 

I have had so many different jobs in the past 12 years, mainly part-time jobs to see my through college, university and law school, in. If I were to include all the jobs I have had, my CV (resume) would be 6 pages long (it’s currently 3 pages long as a result of hardcore condensing lol).

My very first job was at the Hilton hotel as a chambermaid. I remember the day I randomly walked into the hotel, 2 weeks after my last exam. I asked the receptionist if they had any jobs and to my surprise on that same day they were having a recruitment day. I was told to fill out an application form and to come in the next day for an interview. On the day of the interview I was invited to start the week after, which I did.

Everything happened so quick and I never forget the date I started, 7th July 2003.  I worked full time during the summer until I started college then I just worked weekends and some evenings during the week.I was thrilled because I was earning a full time wage and at only 16 years old I was earning more than people my age - minimum wage didn't apply to me lol.

From what I can remember, over the past 12 years, I have worked as a waitress, cashier, customer service representative, call centre agent, cleaner, warehouse operator, supermarket assistant, youth support worker, food service assistant, kitchen assistant, office administrator, housing advisor, community learning champion, leaflet distributor, fundraising coordinator, legal clerk, finance assistant, PA, proofreader and most recently as a business support officer and paralegal.
Wow that's a lot for someone who hasn't even reached her 30s years. As I said, most of these jobs were part-time while I was studying, but I've never been shy to get my hands dirty, to graft and work hard .

I've had some really difficult times and had to accept mundane jobs just to make ends meet and put food on the table - my hardest moments were when I left university until about 2 years ago.

I remember complaining to myself – and anyone who would listen to me – about not being able to break into the career that I spent almost 5 years studying for.
When I look back, I see that all the jobs I had taught me something. I acquired interpersonal skills, developed my verbal and written communication skills as well as becoming IT proficient, quick on my feet, developed my numerical and analytical skills. In a nutshell I have gained transferrable skills that I can use today.

Every place that I have worked at and every situation I have been in has shaped me to the person I am today. I learned to be humble, thick skinned, efficient, a real team player, never give up, not to accept no as the final answer, not to wait for anyone, make things happen, if no one wants to give you a job work for yourself and above all believe in more.

When I was offered jobs that I was more than qualified to do, I didn't despise them. I saw them as firstly, an opportunity to earn money and secondly, as an opportunity to learn something new or maybe meet someone who will open doors for me to get closer to where I want to be.

I no longer complain about where I am - partly because I am closer to achieving my dreams and also because I know wherever I am  placed, I have not been placed there in vain. Somehow and in some way it's going to add to my life, shape my character and I'll gain a skill that I may be lacking.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

My American Adventure: Doing some good in the hood

I woke at 5.30 this morning and by 7am, I had cooked chicken for lunch, prepared myself for work and was ready to leave the apartment.
I caught the 7.20 train to Manhattan. I chose to leave early because the place I was scheduled to work in Brooklyn was new to me and I wanted to make sure that I had enough time to get there before 9.45 and have extra time in case I got lost.

I'm so glad I did because I was given the wrong details and ended up in a completely different area to where I was meant to be working.

When I first arrived in Canarsie, an area in Brooklyn, I sensed that I had entered the hood. As I walked to Avenue D, where I was told I would be working, I couldn't see any of my colleagues. I thought it was strange that no one had arrived yet. When I asked someone for help, they informed me that I had been directed to the wrong place. I should have been in Flatbush, which was 2 miles from where I was.

I couldn't believe it, especially because I had spent half an hour the night before checking my route on line. I even double checked my route with one of the workers at the subway station this morning before I made my way to Brooklyn.

Anyway, once a kind gentleman gave me the right directions, I made my journey to Flatbush. It was a 20-30 minute walk. He told me to be careful because the area I was in was dangerous.

When I got to East Flatbush, my colleagues had already started assisting clients who had booked an appointment with us in advance. As soon as I got myself sorted, I went into one of the interview rooms to help a colleague who was dealing with a driving offence case.

It was a busy day with a mix of people. I assisted 4 clients today, although it seemed like more. This was because each case was quite complex with a range of issues and one client alone needed assistance with 5 different legal issues.

All the people were polite and pleasure to meet and again my knowledge on aspects of the law increased.

I mostly worked with an attorney called Matt who is originally from Montana. I got on well with him and we had interesting conversations. Something I noticed about myself which might sound strange to others is that I tend to forget that I am black. I never use my race as a reason for not doing something or going anywhere. I've always had a mixture of friends from different cultures and race was never a problem or something that came up between us. I don't see myself as a colour.

However, every time I am sat with a black client, especially in areas which are deprived or low income neighbourhoods I feel for them much more, especially the older generation because of what they've gone through with slavery and seeing them still in a type of slavery - mental slavery or a slave to addiction or money. This saddens me because though they have come out of the physical slavery, they are still a slave to something else. I think that's why I work to encourage them more and try and help them out as best as I can.

One of the highlights of the day was sharing my faith and personal experiences with 3 of my colleagues while we ate  lunch. We are all Christians  and it was just awesome being able to speak about what Christ had done in us and the lessons we are currently learning in our walk with Him.It was a special moment.

 The conversation started when I saw one of my colleagues reading his Bible while waiting for clients. I found it beautiful that in the moment of quietness during the day, he took out his Bible to seek direction from God and meditate on His word.

After we had finished seeing all the clients (we only conduct client intakes until 3pm),  I walked a few blocks to the nearest Universal Church which was on Utica Avenue to attend the 4pm service. I left revived.

The area reminds me a lot of Hyson Green because of the layout of the shops, fruit and vegetables markets and the busyness of the streets. The area is predominantly black and it was so noisy with music playing and sirens.

I had to catch a bus to the nearest subway station. It was my first time riding a bus on New York and I didn't really like it. The buses are too small. It reminded of those combi buses in African were everyone is squashed inside, almost standing on each other lol.

I prefer the buses in England, especially in Nottingham.

My American Adventure: My day in Brooklyn

While in the taxi on the way to the American Museum of Natural History, I was watching the news on TV (yep the taxi had a TV). There was a report that there had been a shooting in Brooklyn earlier in the day and 5 people had been injured. Knowing that I was working in Brooklyn the next day, I hoped it was nowhere near where I would be working.

I didn't even know what to expect from the area I was scheduled to work in yesterday because I had never visited the area before. When I stepped off the train I was surprised by what I saw . I had entered the part of Brooklyn that was predominately Jewish. Orthodox Jews left right centre, so much so it took a while to spot a non jew. I had never met an Orthodox Jew in person until yesterday.

 I always thought of Jews as a very close knit community, not having much dealings with outsiders and all prosperous with wealth. So I was very surprised when 80% of the clients we saw today were Jewish, especially because we provide free legal assistance to people on low income. I had always heard that it was hard to find a poor Jewish person, begging for bread (in other words, destitute and in great need of financial help), but today I saw this was not true and they are Jews (more than we think) in grave financial situations just like other people.

When I looked at them, at face value they looked like they lived comfortably, but when they explained their situation to me I saw the opposite. In total, I saw 4 clients in 5 hours and each case was different from each other. This was great for me because I learned new things and was able to develop my knowledge of the law further. I am really developing my legal skills every time I conduct a client intake interview. I find Jewish people to be really friendly with manners - well at least the ones I came into contact with today displayed these attributes.

When I was walking down the street I noticed that the Jewish woman, including young girls, dress very similar to each other, wearing midi length skirts. They wear wigs instead of displaying there real hair and we walked past wigs shops on our way to the station.

 They have their own clothes shops which has clothes appropriate for them. I saw Jewish schools and centres and even Jewish school buses. It was cute to see all the Jewish boys playing outside and I could hear them to each other in both Hebrew abe English.

I am all for embracing your culture and roots but I can't help but think how this segregation forms the minds of these children to look at others in a different way. Not going to school with other kids that are not Jewish, not playing with them or associating with them doesn't help in how one will view them when they grow up.

That's my opinion anyway. All in all, it was a good day and I enjoyed my time there.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

My American Adventure: Manhattan Annual Board Reception

Last night, I went to an Annual Board Reception which was held by Gale Brewer who looks after Manhattan and overseas what goes on in the borough. The reception was held for her staff, all committee board members and certain people who work in the community to make Manhattan what it is, on a cultural, economic, educational, social and political level.

 It was an invitation only event and I was invited a few days before the event, to accompany Clarisse, who is the executive director of the organization I am currently working with the summer. I had never been to an event like this before so I was looking forward to it. I asked what the dress code was to make sure that I was dressed appropriately.

The event was held at the American Museum of Natural History opposite Central Park West. It was very nice inside. Catering staff and waiters were at hand to serve us with different refreshments and snacks. I don't even know the name of half the cheeses, nibbles other snacks that were served, but it was nice. I think snacks is a bit of a simple word to describe what we had lol. Gale had hired out the entire hall for the reception which was impressive. I was told by Clarisse that this was only something the Mayor or Governor would do, but because she has strong ties in the community she did it.

When I saw Gale, straight away I thought, "she seems so simple." She was dressed very simple and when talking to people, I could tell she was interested in them and what they had to say. Clarisse is on the committee board and introduced me to Gale.

When talking to her I sensed that she was down to earth and she was very encouraging about me making the most of my time here in New York. I got to network with a few people and I got a chance to know about some of the different organizations and services that operate in Manhattan, especially the ones that provide legal services.

i love opportunities like this because you never know who you will meet and the doors that can open from such an encounter.

My American Adventure: The Hustle is Real

There is a lot of hustle and bustle here in New York. I've never been in a place where the fight for survival and to bring home the dinero has been so vigorous. I see people selling things from the crack of dawn until after the sun has set.

When I went to Harlem for the first time, I saw a lot of people trying to flog their personal possessions from clothes, electrical goods to jewellery. Many of them looked over 50 years old.

In Central Park, there was a woman selling ice cold-water with her two young children for a dollar. It was a very hot day and people were buying from her.  There was also a family having a barbecue and passers by were getting food from them too. The food smelt so nice!

In Jamaica Queens there are a group of people that sell blocks ice in a cup which you cover in fruit flavoured syrup of your choice. They also sell fruit sorbets that's kept on freezer typed carts on a shopping trolley (picture below). I had one on Saturday and I really liked it.

In the subway and sometimes on the train you see people singing, dancing or playing an instrument, using their talents to make money.

I rate all these people because they are not just sitting down waiting for the government, family or friends to provide for them. They are going out and making money.

They work really hard and as many are finding it hard to get a job, they are using what they have to bring home the cash.

In England there are so many laws and regulations that prohibit these activities, unless you have a license. I am aware that they are certain places in New York that you need to have a license (a pedlar's license) to sell stuff.

Being here, I have seen why they call the United States, the land of the free! There are opportunities here that you don't get elsewhere. In the short space I have been here, I have had opportunities that are scarce or very hard to get in England!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

My American Adventure: Hudson River, Soho and Tribeca.

On Thursday I walked around Greenwhich Village and parts of Soho and Tribeca. I also had a lovely quiet moment at Hudson River and did a bit of work while I was sat there. I could see the statute of liberty on the other side of the river.

I love getting away from busy atmospheres and environments and going to a quiet place to speak with God and to reflect on recent events.

As I walked around Tribeca, I felt like I had walked straight into nannyville. They were so many nannies with children, playing in the park, buying ice cream, pushing them around in their pushchairs and feeding them. I assumed they were nannies because all the children were white and all the ladies were either black or Hispanic.

It must be a place where nannies take the children to play after school because it was jam packed with children and nannies.

I've always seen in the movies and US sitcoms that nannies and housekeepers were usually Hispanic ladies and it's true . I noticed all of the nannies had foreign accents. There is nothing wrong with that because on one hand I think it's good for the children who probably come from wealthy families, to become comfortable around other races and backgrounds from an early age and can be educated to not be narrow minded towards people that may not come from their social class or racial background.

However, on the other hand I couldn't help but think if sometimes  these women are taken advantage of because of their  immigration status in the country and their limited English as well as being low paid and feeling as if this is all they are good for.

It's very hot in New York at the moment and I'm finally getting used to it. At first I struggled and suffered with headaches and exhaustion because of the hot weather but now I'm in adjusting to it. Carrying water around with me and staying hydrated has helped so much.

I've seen so many people selling bottles of ice cold water, homemade fruit juices and sorbets, taking advantage of the nice weather and making money for themselves at the same time.

Friday, 12 June 2015

My American Adventure: unexpected hostility

It's taken me a week to finish my post about my first experience in Jamaica Queens last Friday because I've been trying to think carefully about how I will write what I am about to say. It might be controversial to some people.

Before I get into that I'd like to say the area is very much like what I experienced in Harlem. The streets are lively with mostly reggae or old skool R&B music playing. I could smell Caribbean food everywhere, as like there was a neighbourhood barbeque or cookout. It smelt so good. They have a lot clothes shops that sell urban clothing which I definitely will re visit because I saw some very unique and interesting buys to add to my wardrobe. The streets are very busy. I do like the area because of the diverse food and clothing stores they have.

However, as a young black woman I have felt prejudice by my own race. I've always heard that the United States is a racist country (no thanks to the Klu Klax Klan and other negative historic situations such as slavery) and  how black people or (African Americans as they are called, which by the way I don't like that phrase) are constantly treated unfairly by white people. We see in the media, hear it in the hip hop songs but  in all honesty the only hostility I've encountered so far is from fellow black people.

The white Americans I've met in the cafes, shops, restaurant and on the street, have been more kind and friendly to me then my own race. Bearing in mind that I've only been here for 2 weeks, I'm not referring to all black people, just the majority of the ones I have come into contact with since I have been here.
I've been in  different neighbourhoods and experienced this both in the suburbs and in the "hood".

Here in Carle Place where I am currently staying, only 1.4% of the 4,000 plus population is black. I've seen 2 black families in the area and when I went to greet one of the ladies, sje just gave me a horrible look as if she had eaten a really sour lemon and turned her head away from me. The other one just looked blank in my face when I smiled at them . I was really shocked because being in a quiet suburban area, I would have thought a black person would be happy seeing another black person in the neighbourhood and not in the "hood".

I've experienced the same hostility in Manhattan, Harlem and Queens from the bus driver and the cashier at the store or restaurant to the passer by on the street when asking for directions.

I really don't understand this because I see that a lot of black people are very quick to pull out the race card when they feel like that have been hard done by or facing an injustice, but they can't even show any respect, goodwill or courtesy towards their own race.

I thought it was all in my head but after speaking with other people about it since I've been here, they too face the same issue, especially when they are dressed smart and go into a neighbourhood which is predominantly people of their background.

A few things come to mind when thinking about this, such as, insecurity, jealousy, fear and inferiority. I'm still trying to understand why black people behave this way when we should be supporting each other and rooting for one another to make it big.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

My American Adventure: Friday in Jamaica, Queens pt 2

I walked around the area and the houses and streets reminded me of the film, The Color Purple.

The area is predominantly black and Hispanic and most senior residents own there home. There were flowers and cards on lamp posts were young men had died.

I've never seen so many churches on just one street as I did in this area. I was stood outside one and across the road there was another church in front of me. At the corner of my eye I could see another one on my right. When I turned right into another street there were two more churches 3 minutes walk from each other. Just in this area they were around 9 churches, some Baptist, other Pentecostal and Methodist.

When I walked back to the venue, the others had arrived. I had never met the people I was going to work with today so I was looking forward to meeting them. The interesting things was none of us originated from the US. Hua is from Hong Kong and moved here 3 years ago to go to Law School. Elliott was born in Puerto Rico but moved to The Bronx when he  6 years old and Jessica is originally from Peru but was raised in the US.

They were others from the Middle East and somewhere else but they didn't interact with me so I never got chance to find out anything about them. Aaron, the supervising attorney was really cool and helpful.

Hua and Jessica recently passed the New York State Bar and are waiting to be admitted as attorneys. They were so helpful, giving me tips and advice about the Bar exam and what to expect.

Both changed careers and left their comfort zone and all they knew for a legal career in New York. Jessica had been working as a legal secretary for a number of years and at the age of 37 decided she wanted to be an attorney. I was particularly interested in her story and I was reminded that it's never too late to achieve your dreams and change professions if that's what you want. She inspired me and she went on to tell me that her husband who has been an auditor for many years is now doing nursing training as he wants to switch careers into something more fulfilling for him.
I got on pretty well with Jessica, Elliott, Hua and Aaron and we spent some time talking about ourselves, backgrounds and what brought us to New York.

In total, I saw 3 clients. All had different needs from family and domestic violence, to housing foreclosure issues that they needed legal assistance with.
The training prior to starting the work was very informative and direct and helped me when performing the client intakes.

I really love what I do and I am passionate about justice, people knowing their rights and taking advantage of and having access to entitlements they not even be aware of.
By 2pm it was quiet and we didn't have any more clients booked in so we left early. 

To be continued...

Friday, 5 June 2015

My American Adventure: Friday in Jamaica, Queens Pt 1

Today I was in Jamaica Queens and I was really looking forward to it because I knew I would have interaction with clients seeking legal assistance and dealing with them one to one. I didn't have time to visit the sight in advance so I didn't know what to expect from the area. All I knew about Jamaica Queens was what 50 Cent used to rap about when I used to listen to his music a very long time ago. He is from Jamaica Queens.

I guessed there was a strong Jamaican presence in the area due to it's name and I wasn't wrong. As soon as I got off the train all I heard at first was people speaking in Jamaican Patois . There are a lot of Jamaican food stores and clothing stores that sell Jamaican style clothing.

I'm going to write my experience in two parts (maybe 3) because there is a lot I want to share.

Firstly this morning I had to change my outfit 3 times. What I originally planned to wear looked too corporate for where I was going and possibly would attract unwanted attention. Before coming to New York, I took part in webinar training and I remembered the advice given to wear business casual in certain community settings we will visit, so we don't make the clients feel intimated or uneasy with us all suited and booted. I changed into something more appropriate but the trousers (pants) was too loose. I had bought them a few months before I travelled and as I have lost weight since then. They now looked like maternity trousers (pants) LOL.

In the end, I went for this look which I've never worn before but I liked it and was comfortable with it.

 Dressing appropriately for an particular occasion or setting is very important.

As I mentioned earlier, I had not researched the area in advance and when I got there I saw how remote the venue was to local cafes and shops that I had been used to in Harlem, Brooklyn and Long Island. There are a lot of deli stores but they are nothing like the ones I am used to in England. It's more like a convenience store which sells coffee to go and a few sandwiches. There were no seating areas.

I arrived an hour early so no one was there. Thankfully a seniors center was opened and the caretaker asked me if I wanted to drink my coffee inside when he saw me standing outside the venue. He was so friendly and so was everyone else at the center.

One of the ladies who worked there is originally from London and grew up near Wembley. After 38 years of living in the UK, she decided to move with her daughter to New York and has been living here for 18 years. She recognised that I had a midlands accent and I could hear her London accent when she said certain words, though she sounded more like a New Yorker.

To be continued....

Thursday, 4 June 2015

My American Adventure: Style observation

I've been in New York for a week now and something that I have noticed is that everyone has there own sense of style. I am yet to meet people dressed the same or following a certain fashion trend.

Of course, they're certain things in fashion that people will wear according to the season but what I've noticed is that people are comfortable to wear what they want to wear. They wear it in their own way and as long as it looks good on them and they like it, it's all good!

 I see people wearing stuff I've only ever seen in urban music videos or photo shoots. People really do dress as you see them dress on TV.

I haven't sensed the pressure I sense in England for people to follow the latest fashion trend. In England we are too caught up in what everyone else is wearing. Subconsciously asking ourselves, "do we look cool, do we fit in or will we look out of date?"

 The culture is not authentic as here. We what our friends are wearing but not always what shows our personality, what represents us. I think people are afraid to embrace their uniqueness and be creative.

I'm going to take pictures of the different styles I see here in New York so you get an idea of what I am saying.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

My American Adventure: Down to business

Today was the day I actually started what I came to New York to do - provide legal assistance to low income individuals or families in the community.

First impressions count a lot so I chose my outfit carefully and ensured I looked the part haha.

I will be working in Upper Manhattan / Harlem twice a week and other boroughs on the rest of the days. I really like the diversity because I will get a feel and understanding of the different communities in New York and travel around.

Today was more of an introduction of the organization and what I will be doing for the next 10 weeks. I am looking forward to the challenge and I have already been warned that they will be lots for me to do and I will be expected to pick things up quickly. It's going to be really hands on.

I like challenges because they cause me to come out of my comfort zone and bring out the best in me. I have no doubt that I will grow both as a person and professionally throughout these 10 weeks.

I left the office quite early today so I attended the 4pm service at the Universal Church in Harlem. I am so blessed and thankful that my church is worldwide and has many branches in New York, so wherever I work or stay, there is a branch for me to attend.

My faith is very important to me and without it I wouldn't even be here. It's through the Universal Church that I found God and learned how to use my faith.

After the service, I walked around Harlem for a bit and I really enjoyed it. It reminds me of Brixton High Street but more vibrant and with so much going on. There was music playing, mainly classic 90s R&B and Reggae music and I could smell Caribbean food. Oh, it smelt so good. I felt like I had entered the 70s era where people are walking down the street with afros and funk music playing lol.

There's a variety of shops from your well known high streets stores such as, H&M, Gap and Old Navy to the local clothing stores called Pay Half and Dr. Jays ladies.
There are a lot of Caribbean food stores and restaurants hence why the streets smelt so good.

There's a lot of pedlars on the street and people just hanging around killing time. I did sense a lot more hostility in Harlem then in the other places I have visited so far and most people either ignored me or looked at me with a blank face and walked away when I asked for directions lol. They were some genuinely nice and helpful people and I guess the more I am in the area, the more I'll understand the people there.

One thing  I know, you have to be assertive!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Friday look: Double Denim

Two weeks ago at work we were invited to dress up in double denim. We usually dress smart or business causal so I tool this opportunity to wear casual clothes to work.

The last time I wore double denim was in my last in my teenage years , 10 years ago. I likes wearing it so much that it has inspired me to invest in more denim clothing.

Monday, 1 June 2015

My American Adventure: Getting around

"Would you like anything else mami?" the female waitress asked. "That'll be $7 senorita", the male cashier said. I really liked being called "mami and "senorita" yesterday when I ate at a latino deli across the road from the church.

 On Saturday I went to East Harlem which is also known as Spanish Harlem and when I arrived I started singing "Maria Maria, she reminds me of a Westside Story, growing up in Spanish Harlem, she's living a life just like a movie star", a song by Carlos Santana (it's from the late 90's).

There is a strong Latino presence of Puerto Ricans, as well a mixture of Mexicans, Italians, South East Asians and Caribbean's. At first I felt like I entered the hood because of the buildings, shops and the kind of people that were walking by. I wanted to see where I had been scheduled to work on my first day at the legal help center and learn my route.

The closer I got to the venue, I started to see men and women of all ages (mostly older people) selling scrap, old clothing, personal belongings and ornaments on the floor beside the road on a simple cloth. Clearly just trying to make some money for themselves. Men just standing on the side of the buildings like you see in the movies or hip hop videos not doing anything but killing time and watching people as they go by.

It was a different surrounding to what I have been used to here in Long Island where I am staying - in a quiet suburban area. Despite the difference in neighbourhoods most of the people were just as friendly and greeted me with a smile or nodding their head, then going about their own business. I had made my own away around certain parts of Manhattan earlier on in the day before going to Harlem and I felt comfortable walking around the streets and sightseeing. At no point did I feel afraid, apprehensive or desperate for someone to accompany me in case I got lost or incase something happened.

Before I left the apartment in the morning, I made a prayer of protection and asked God to guide me throughout the day. When your life is in God's hands, you don't fear. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you have confidence, you know He is right there beside you and no harm will come to you.