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Photo ofFrancisco Bello

I used to be a struggling student. When I was a young boy, I faced a lot of obstacles in my life. I was diagnosed with ADHD -- the disorder that can make you hyper or impulsive -- and elementary school was a struggle. It was hard to keep up with my school work and to stay focused in class. I was always in need of extra support, and I felt overwhelmed. I was falling through the cracks. 

I had a hard time in school with the other kids as well. I always tried to fit in and to make friends, but they treated me differently. You see, in my younger years, I was a follower, not a leader. My energy was too much for my peers and they’d separate themselves from me. Since I was a kid, it was hard for me to make friends with others because my energy seemed to always ruin it, mainly because it was either that my energy was too impulsive or I was just too anxious when around people. Perhaps this is why a lot of kids saw me a little differently back then. 

From time to time I was picked on by the other kids around me and that was very hard because it made me look at myself differently like I wasn't meant to be around others. It made me feel bad about myself, and I always ran home to my mom telling her I wanted to hide. But I knew I couldn’t hide from the world. I had to face the obstacles with me being bullied. 

Eventually, I started high school. As a newly-arrived freshman, I was very unfamiliar with the school. I had heard from many people that this school wouldn’t be a great fit for me simply because of its history. I heard that there were a lot of fights and that the kids were bad. Nevertheless, I also heard that the school was working on improving so I decided to give it a fair shot.

A few days after starting my freshman year, I remember being told that I had been enrolled in a program called BAM. When I first heard about this I didn’t know what to expect. 

I walked into BAM on the first day and found out it was a youth mentoring group that stood for Becoming A Man. In the beginning, I wasn't too interested in this youth guidance group, but each time we had our meetings throughout my freshman year, the program grew on me. Every class session we did a circle, and every time I learned something about myself that I never really knew. Every circle was full of life lessons, levity, humor, and wisdom. 

Since the earliest days dating back to elementary school, I had always struggled to understand myself and be comfortable with who I am, and I often battled with my mental state. I finally found somewhere that helped me understand who I am, build self-confidence, develop a set of core values, and make genuine friendships. 

Part of me had always felt like I was playing some sort of character in life, almost like a double identity. As a young Latino man, I had learned to never show emotions because it was seen as a sign of weakness and that men should never show weakness to anyone. I would hide how I feel.

When I participated in BAM circles though I learned that it was okay to have moments of deep reflection. It’s okay to be in touch with your emotions and search yourself from deep within. The group taught me that becoming a man is about feeling all sides of your emotions and breaking down toxic barriers and cultural norms to get rid of the negative stigma associated with being a man who feels in society. 

Overall, I’ve learned that there is no growth without change, no change without fear or loss, and no loss without pain.

© Francisco Bello. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.