“Happy. Sad. Angry. This is how I see my daily life.” Shaunteese Parker shows off her latest painting from Art Boot Camp, a spring break program for students in BUILD’s after-school programs. Clearly defined borders divide her canvas into three sections. Each has a distinct texture, but it’s one painting. “Red is angry. Blue is sad. Pink is happy.All three parts come together.”
It takes courage to create an original. Shaunteese knows this because, at 15, she is heading down a path she chose - she wants to be a teacher, which is not what everyone expects. “Everybody in my family has been in a gang,” she says, including parents, her four siblings, and numerous cousins. She’s the youngest, and feels pressure every day to follow in their footsteps. “I’m probably the only one that will finish high school.” Her idea to teach elementary school came from observing her BUILD mentors, Ms. Lorie and Ms. Hart. Her love of children comes from her niece Alaysia, whom she has cared for since she was two weeks old.
“It’s my dream. I love children and have experience with them. I feel like I can make a difference in their lives the way BUILD has helped me with mine. It’s easy to see Shaunteese as a teacher. She has a strong voice, honed in BUILD’s public speaking competition. In 2016 she placed third, with an original speech on a painful topic – she was abused by schoolmates as a first grader. It took a year to get ready to tell that story. “When I finally talked about it, it was a relief. I was happy I had told somebody and that they understood.” Her family remains a source of mixed emotions. Most days, when she is not at BUILD’s programs, she goes straight to her room and locks the door.
Her decision to choose a different lifestyle is understandable, but the isolation is a challenge. With BUILD’s help, Shaunteese is turning obstacles into assets. She’s still a bit wary about new friends, but the peer connections she’s making are starting to take hold. “I see them as my family, and know that they would protect me. Anybody in BUILD would.”