I’m a first generation, 17-year-old Black American who grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Brooklyn neighborhood made famous by Jay-Z.
Given that brief biography, perhaps you’d assume that I’m a Black Lives Matter slogan-chanting, capitalism-chastising teen activist. Or that I’m an at-risk youth, destined for dropping out or incarceration.
You’d be wrong on both counts.
I’m a religious Christian and political conservative with an after-school job as a dishwasher at Panera: three things that, if we’re to believe the statistics about Gen Z, make me an outlier.
One thing the studies definitely get right: my peers and I are online all the time. I’ve had a cellphone since I was 11 years old and immediately downloaded Instagram. While there had always been references to social justice, they didn’t dominate. Until the past two years. Suddenly, they were everywhere I clicked and, often, at the centerpiece of our lesson plans at school. As classes moved from the classroom to bedroom, I began to notice my classmates denouncing their “white privilege” in Instagram posts, updating their bios with their gender pronouns, and posting links to various social justice causes.
Even though I find myself in similar circles as my activist counterparts, I did none of those things. I’m a proponent of equality and pluralism. But I don’t believe in the kind of self-aggrandizing, virtue signaling that accompanies so much of “woke” politics.
My inoculation — against woke politics and the social accreditation thereof — was given to me in stages.
The first shot came early, care of my parents, who run a Baptist church in our Brooklyn neighborhood. My mom and my dad, both immigrants from Haiti, have always been devout. Before they had a space for their church, they held services in the living room of our Bed-Stuy apartment.
They were strict. Way stricter, I now realize, than the parents of any of my friends. I was treated to death stares if I was fidgety at a church or at a family friend’s house. The television could not be turned on until the weekend. And even then, I had only two hours after I’d finished my homework. I was not allowed to play sports because they wanted me to focus on education. (As I grew up, they loosened up: I could watch TV at any time and I played soccer from 7th to 11th grade.)
In 2016, when I was 12 years old, we traveled to Haiti to build a church, this one high upon a hill in the village of Tavern, an hour away from Les Cayes. I remember the gleaming pews we installed there, the lightbulbs we screwed in, and the brand new piano keyboard we bought for the community. You cannot deny the privileges of being American when you see Haitian children weep over new shoes we deem uncool.
My parents lived by the values they instilled in me — charity, civility, responsibility, and tenacity — and their moral code follows me whenever I step out my door. I have plenty of Manhattanite friends whose families are wealthier than mine, but as my mother says my greatest inheritance is her belief in the Word.
I got my next layer of protection from Leadership Prep Ocean Hill Charter School, which I attended from first until eighth grade. Our dismissals there did not end at the school door. Instead, it was at the end of the block, with teachers escorting us and pleading us to walk directly home so as to avoid the gang violence that plagues the surrounding streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn.
About Daniel Idfresne
Daniel Idfresne (17) is a senior at Brooklyn Technical High School. You can find him on YouTube (Daniel Idfresne), Instagram, and Twitter (@danielidfresne.) For general inquiries, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org