October 23, 2018

Air Force by Day, YouTube by Night

“The military is a really good foundation”

The confidence to speak out, with humor, didn’t come easily.

“I grew up really rough,” Ms. Smith said of her childhood in St. Louis, which was marked by an absentee father and poverty. She joined the Air Force when she was 18 years old. “I had done pretty well in school, but I didn’t have any money,” she said. “I grew up broke, and I was like, if I go to school, I’m going to graduate and get a job and still be broke.”

But days before she left her hometown, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a white police officer in nearby Ferguson. Protesters took to the streets for weeks. “My aunt lives on the street he was shot on,” Ms. Smith said. “It broke my heart.”

Taking part in the protests opened Ms. Smith’s eyes to the extent of the problems plaguing both her city and the country. “One night, they kept shooting people with these rubber pellets,” she said. “They had imposed a curfew on Ferguson, but there were people who lived in Ferguson who couldn’t get home. They would have tanks at the end of the street. If they saw you, you would get arrested. We were belly-crawling across the street.”

Leaving amid the crisis haunted Ms. Smith, but she feels that she made the right choice. “For people who come from circumstances like where I come from, you don’t have a lot of stability, you don’t have money, you don’t have adults that you can be like, ‘How do I do this?’” she said. When she joined the Air Force, she started receiving a steady paycheck, set up bank accounts and got her first credit card.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/14/style/youtube-air-force-sailor-j.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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