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Photo ofGiovanni Barron

If you ever saw “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” you would picture a tough and badass standoff between three men. Three men waiting for the first one to make a move, thinking of whether to do something that’ll make them live another six years or put them six feet below. Now that you have that image in your head,  replace the three badass cowboys with one chubby and scared 13-year-old, two weapon wielding men in hoods in that situation and call it, “The Fat, The Scared, and The Hooded.”

I grew up in a household where toxic masculinity was celebrated and the best way to portray yourself as a man. Yeah, try telling that to a ten-year-old me playing with Legos and watching Cartoon Network. Along with toxic masculinity comes immature behavior,  doing stupid stuff without thinking. Want to impress other people by doing stupid stunts? Do it! Want to prove that you’re tough? Don’t feel emotions! Want to feel the adrenaline? Just pick a fight! Want to get in shape to show more strength and toughness? Just go for a brisk walk and get home only to be greeted with a knife to your face! Okay, maybe one of those examples is not like the others.

Just like other teenagers, we tend to be insecure about a lot of things. I was fortunate enough to be uncertain about my weight. I thought I might as well get into a shape that I am comfortable with, prove to others that I can take care of myself, and show that I can live up to those standards of being a man. One day, I put on my old middle school gym shorts, old gray ‘Cali’ hoodie, my withering gray Nike tennis shoes, and walked around my neighborhood. However, I never thought that my first time walking in effort  to make myself look better would make me feel like the character in a Clint Eastwood movie.

Aside from dying from the pain in my side from running, I felt some bad vibes while coming home, and it wasn’t the cop car with the blaring siren that caused that. As I reached  my apartment complex, just before my foot reached the fourth step, I heard a loud sound, equivalent to a cat falling from a significant height and landing on a hardwood floor. But it wasn’t a cat, it was two older men dressed in hoodies. When I looked back, I only managed to see one of the guys on the ground, covered in dirt and the other one was in the process of jumping the said fence. One wore a red hoodie, while the other wore a gray one.. At first, I thought it was just two dumb teenagers doing parkour or something. Other than their ‘obvious amazing fashion sense,’ I noticed that they had something attached to their belt buckle. Nothing too big, but big enough to be a gun holster, but not oddly shaped for it to be something else. It wasn’t until I felt the cold, dirty flat side of a hunting knife being pressed underneath my chin on the side of my neck, that I realized I could be in danger. 

Now two thoughts went through my head; either I try to stop them from doing something dumb and wait for authorities, or slowly back away because I don’t have a single clue how to take down a grown man. This situation isn't my imagination that we’re talking about here where I know incredible takedown skills like Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury. It might've felt like ten minutes, but in actuality, it took about two minutes. Two minutes’ worth of thinking whether or not to follow society’s standards and try to defend me or just follow my instincts. I said, screw it, and decided to do nothing. The hooded men took my silence and firm stance as a hint that I would pose no threat, essentially saying, “I won’t do nothing if you don’t.” They soon went off to their own endeavors, and I hurried into my humble little abode. 

Throughout that day,  I didn’t eat anything and didn’t tell anyone. I was raised in a household where being a man is defined by standing up to people and never backing down. However, down the line, I began to realize that what I was taught didn’t matter. I am my own person with my own thoughts and feelings. The fact that I could’ve died at age thirteen because I wanted to prove my masculinity, AT AGE THIRTEEN. At this point in my life, I don’t care about my masculinity or the image provided by society. I should be able to shape my own thoughts and decisions to fit my vision of who I am. No knife, person, or thing in this world can tell me otherwise. That is something you can’t find out in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”

© Giovanni Barron. 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.