“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

The answer to where you call home is often followed with “have you been to [insert favorite restaurant]” or “I loved it when I visited!”

That’s never the response when I tell people I’m from Compton, California. Instead, my response is followed with “is it as bad as they say it is?” or “have you ever been shot before?”

Grade school was marked by embarrassment and resentment. If you asked, I was from the “the border” of Carson and Compton,” hoping to be associated with the more affluent Carson but mentioning Compton to assuage my shame. Undergrad was an opportunity to reinvent myself and take pride in my hometown – move from “the border” to Compton. Instead, “talking proper” and “dressing like a white boy” created doubt. Poetic justice.

You see, Compton is more than the mainstream media portrayal of graffiti-laden walls denoting artificial borders and the remnants of the 80s crack epidemic. It was a sanctuary for my grandparents escaping the segregated South during the Great Migration. It’s the birthplace and matchmaker of my parents. It is where blue-collar residents find their independence as they look to survive in a country where the odds are stacked against them. It’s perseverance. Why should I feel ashamed?

I’m not.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting someone from Compton, I’m proud to introduce myself. Try not to let the boardroom setting, well-tailored suit, career aspirations, and ivy league degrees confuse you.

If you’re still wondering whether I’ve been shot, ask yourself, “am I piquing my curiosity or perpetuating the stereotype? Or both?”

— Carlton Burrell