“He can’t take his shoes off in my house. He comes from the projects.” A woman I know said this about a young man visiting her home. This statement was important because she did not allow people to walk in her living room on her carpet with their shoes on. So this young man who came from the projects could only go so far as the kitchen.
Sitting in my single dorm room at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire I wondered if people could tell that I came from the projects. I let people speculate that I lived in a brownstone in Brooklyn, New York. When people asked me where I lived I would describe all of the nice areas near Brownsville like Park Slope, the Botanical Gardens or the Brooklyn Museum. I talked about how I only went to private school without admitting that the zoned schools in my neighborhood would have never led to my admission to St. Paul’s.
Whether it was winter break, spring break, Christmas, or Thanksgiving I left Concord (where I hid my background) and went back to the projects in Brownsville (where I refused to share what it felt like to go to school in Concord). My fear of telling the truth isolated me. I had to remember what not to say and to be careful not to reveal so much that people could figure things out for themselves. And since my relationships with people were built on half-truths all I really had left was schoolwork and extracurricular activities. So I excelled in school. The workload took my mind off of circumstance.
It wasn’t until I was older that I realized I had done myself a disservice. People are interested in how a person can move from one environment to the next and survive. I never thought existing in both worlds made me an exception. I thought it made me a mistake. I was destined to fail. If I didn’t do it on my own I would become a tragic victim of my environment. Either way the odds were not in my favor. But even so, I had the full support of my parents, teachers, extended family, and a few close friends who tipped the scale in my favor. And I persevered.
So what is a Project Chic? I believe it is female person who lives in the projects. Others create all of the connotations and stereotypes; and she lives the best life she can.
And what is a Paulie? I believe it is an individual who went to St. Paul’s School. This person can come from anywhere in the world and the school is the playground for common experiences that connects the student body and alumni forever.
What does it mean to be both? It is to be blessed.