Growing Up in the Ghetto: From the Projects to Home Ownership


Living in the Ghetto

“When you are growing up in the ghetto, FI seems like a pipe dream.  For most people living there, the primary goal is to escape this environment and never look back.” 

-Peerless Money Mentor



The following article is based on a true story.  Due to my lack of perfect memory, some important details may have been unintentionally omitted.*

For this post, we will be doing some time traveling.  First, I will take you back to a time in my life where gas was $1.00/gallon at the corner store.  Inside of this store, the same bag of Spicy Doritos sold at convenience stores today (with less contents) for a $1.00 cost $.25 back then.

During this time period, I was living in the projects (ghetto) in south Baton Rouge, La.  I lived there from kindergarten to 5th grade with my mom, two sisters, and brother.

Although my parents had gotten a divorce when I was 5 in 1992, my father was around often.  So often that an outsider looking in might have mistaken them for still being married.


Dirt Filled Pool

While I do not recall how we ended up living here, I remember that the apartment we lived in had two bedrooms.  My mom slept in one room, while my three younger siblings and I shared a bunk bed.

Another thing I vividly remember is that the pool in the middle of our apartment courtyard was filled with dirt instead of water.  Next to the pool, were some tables.  It was at one of these tables where I was exposed to gambling.

Street Dice

Living in the Ghetto

One day I was playing around in the courtyard when an older kid approached me asking, “How much money do you have?”  When I responded, “I have two quarters!” he suggested we play a game of street dice.

Not knowing the rules of the game (I still don’t know how to play), I agreed to play.  My memory starts to fade at this point, but I remember him asking me to place a bet on a number.

After seeing him roll the dice a couple of times, he took my two quarters and placed them in his pocket.  Feeling the pain of a permanent loss, I ran up stairs to tell my mother.

Side Hustles

When I entered our apartment upstairs, I noticed my mom was too busy to hear my sob story.  She was busy pouring Kool-Aid in plastic cups.  After filling each cup, she would put them in the freezer.

In South Baton Rouge, we call these frozen treats Dixie Cups.  My mom sold each cup for $.25.

In addition to selling this frozen treat, she sold other items like:

  • Candy (which some of her children stole)
  • Disgusting pig feet
  • Pickles

While my mom was able to make some additional money, this led to the unintended consequence of our apartment getting robbed multiple times.


Living in the Ghetto

Our apartment got robbed on several occasions.  For me, the most memorable robbery happened a day after opening our presents for Christmas.

After opening my Christmas gift, I was excited because we had gotten a Sega Genesis gaming system.  I probably played the Sonic Hedgehog game that came along with it all night long.

The day after we went out of town to visit some relatives, leaving the Sega Genesis behind.  Whenever we returned, to my horror, the gaming system and television were gone.

Moving Out

After the robberies, my mom resolved to move us to a better location.  This location would sill be in the ghetto, but would be a three bedroom home.

To get us out of this location, she would enroll in a government program called Section 8 Housing.

First Interlude

Even through the robberies, I was always a happy child growing up in the projects.  My mother and father would take my siblings and I to the park where we would have so much fun.

In addition to that, my father would take my friend Gerald and I to college basketball games.

Living in the Ghetto
Doing back flips on the swings was my favorite thing to do as a kid. Life was good. I was care and debt free!

Section 8 Housing

More Space

The summer before attending the magnet program at McKinley Middle, my family and I moved to a three bedroom home in the ghetto.  Instead of having to share a room with the rest of my younger siblings, I now shared a room with my younger brother.

Although having more space was nice, I started becoming painfully aware of the fact we lived in a low income neighborhood.  While before, I was just a happy kid, now I started to compare my surroundings with the neighborhood nearby.

The Grass is Greener

Whenever I wanted to escape from my inferior surroundings, I would hop on my bicycle and explore the neighborhood a few blocks away.  I took mental note of the beautiful landscaping, abundance of oak trees, and pretty houses.  In comparison, my neighborhood had dilapidated buildings, few oak trees, and substandard housing.  After seeing this, I started plotting my escape.

My Escape Plan

To escape the ghetto, I devised a plan to become a basketball star.  At the time, Kobe had just joined the Lakers and I wanted to be just like him.  Instead of doing my homework, I would come home and play basketball at the neighborhood BREC park.

Challenge from Teachers

As a result of not doing my homework, my grades started to suffer.  I remember my math teacher, Ms. Lang,  saying to me, “Jerry, you would have a better grade in my class if you did the homework…”  My foolish thinking at the time was I did not need to focus on homework if I was passing the exams.

In another one of my classes, I got a more direct challenge from my Biology teacher, Ms. J.  She asked me in front of the entire class if I wanted to go to be sent to another school.  The week before she had given the class an assignment, and I failed to do it.  I was too busy chasing my hoop dreams!

Back on Track Sort of…

While my teachers challenged me, they did not give up on me.  My parents had a conversation with me, and I started doing my homework.  The frustrations I had with my surroundings, however, did not go away.

To make a long story short, I did not make the middle school basketball team. If I could not be a basketball star, I would become a gangster rapper instead.

Rap Dreams

Living in the Ghetto

One day I started writing rhymes in my composition notebook about bringing bodily harm to others.  Although I was far from a gangster, I thought writing violent rhymes would be my ticket out of the ghetto.

The universe would have other plans for me.  My rap aspirations were short-lived.  Once my father got a hold of my notebook, he ripped the papers into millions of pieces.

Mom’s Escape Plan

With my dreams of becoming a gangster rapper or NBA star shattered, I thought I would never escape the ghetto.  My thinking would be correct, except for my mom having other plans.

She would soon inform us that she was looking into purchasing a home for us in a better neighborhood!  With my father’s help, she was able to accomplish this.

Second Interlude

While growing up in the ghetto, FI (financial independence) was the last thing on my family’s mind.  For most people living there, the primary goal is to escape this environment and never look back.

Although I fell victim to the limiting belief that there was only two ways out the hood (rapping or playing ball), my parents and teachers were able to show me a different path.  One where education leads to freedom!

Home Ownership

Right before my freshman year in high school, my mom was able to purchase a home in a decent neighborhood.  The home had four bedrooms, which meant I was able to have my own room!  We also had a decently sized backyard now, which was perfect for an outdoor dog.

Our backyard was also good for outdoor Barbecueing.  I remember us having a few family gatherings.  My grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins would come over to eat good food and enjoy each other’s company.

Life was good!  Everyone seemed happier for a while.  Afterwards, we simply adapted to our new surroundings.


Some days I would sit and ponder whether our escape was worth it.  Could we have stayed and changed the ghetto for the better?  With everyone trying to escape, how will the community ever improve?

I could hear my mom’s voice telling me to stay away from the ghetto, but I have always been hardheaded.  Sometimes I pay the ghetto a visit, like T’Challa.


Visiting the Ghetto


Driving Through the Ghetto

Every time I pass by the ghetto, it angers me to see so much dilapidated property and people struggling.  On almost every other corner, there is a payday loan store.

I hate these stores.  In my mind, these stores represent a soulless capitalism that exploits the poor and most vulnerable among us.  How can the poor become richer when they have compound interest working against them?

If I ruled the world, I would replace these stores with micro lending institutions that offered business development courses.

My frustration usually gives way to cynicism, but recently I have found a reason to have an optimistic outlook!  Let me tell you why…

Southern Grind Cofe

You have probably heard this phrase before: “Where one person sees a problem, another sees a great opportunity.”  Mr. Horatio is such a person.

He decided to open up a coffee shop in a low income, Black neighborhood this summer.  A place where, he is quoted in Business Report as saying, “People told me nothing works in this community and nothing like this has been done around here.”

When I first heard about it, I decided I would show my support the following day.  So, the next day I hopped in my Peerless Mobile to check this place out.

I get to the street where it’s supposedly located, but I could not find it.  There was no visible signage.  After calling a friend, I was able to pinpoint the shop’s exact location.

Mr. Horatio and I exchanged pleasantries, and I ordered a smoothie (not a fan of coffee).  As soon as my order was placed, I inquired about the lack of signage.

“Hold tight.  We are working on signage my brother,” Horatio responded.

Two weeks later, with the help of the Baton Rouge Mayor, a large sign was created for the coffee shop!

In addition to selling coffee and smoothies, Horatio plans to offer vegan food, salad, and other healthy options.

Last time I checked, these options were not available yet.  Hopefully, when they do arrive, the community will purchase them from him.

*Since opening his shop, Mr. Horatio has hosted several events including Coffee with Cops, poetry readings, and financial education workshops.*

My Most Recent Visit


Living in the Ghetto
Southern Grind Cofe

 In the picture above, I was taking a personal finance study break.  I was reading about the negative impact inflation has on purchasing power when money is parked in a savings account. 

Growing up in the ghetto, I assumed the stock market was like the street dice game I mentioned earlier.  In a future blog post, I will explain why that’s not true!

At the table directly behind me, the guy at the table is explaining to the woman across from him how the S&P 500 works.  Yes, I was definitely ear hustling!


While growing up in the ghetto, I learned many life lessons.  With poverty all around me, I learned how to have financial empathy.  I also learned how having an awesome support network can give you a competitive advantage in this world.

Although my parents divorced when I was five years old, they have both been tailwinds in my life.  Their positive influence is undeniable.  Without their unconditional love and guidance, I could have taken the wide path that leads toward self-destruction.

My main reason for pursuing FI is that I want to have a positive impact on impoverished communities.  I am cognizant of the fact that not everyone is as fortunate as I am.

I really hope that supporting business owners like Mr. Horatio will go a long way towards doing that.  His story is a poignant reminder that ordinary people can do extraordinary things once they have a vision and plan of action!  Plus, the support of others!

“Just ’cause your in the ghetto doesn’t mean you can’t grow
But oh, that’s a thought, my own revelation
Do whatever it takes to resist the temptation”

-Tupac Shakur

Community Feedback

  • Can some of the principles of FI be used to improve the ghetto?
  • Do you support businesses in your community?
  • Have you ever lived in a low income neighborhood?

*If you love this post, please do me a solid and share it with your friends on social media or in real life! Thanks for reading.  Also, don’t forget to subscribe below.  Let’s become the best of digital friends :-)*

Subscribe to be one of the first people to get updates as I continue to document my journey from broke to financially woke 🙂

Follow by Email49

Author: Jerry

Jerry is a Business Insider Contributing Writer who is obsessed with personal finance. He believes you can improve your financial situation by applying principles taught by the financial independence community to your financial life.

If you are having trouble saving, he recommends that you join the SaverLife Savings program where you can get a $60 reward after six months (no income requirement). All you have to do is put a minimum of $20 a month into a savings account. Easy, right?

For a fun read, check out his article 10 Signs You’re a Personal Finance Addict to see if you are a personal finance nerd.

Before you go, check out the new From Broke to Financially Woke Interview Series.

Also, please subscribe below if you found his content valuable and want to continue following him as he documents his own journey from Broke to Financially Woke!

Subscribe to be one of the first people to get updates as I continue to document my journey from broke to financially woke 🙂

54 thoughts on “Growing Up in the Ghetto: From the Projects to Home Ownership

  1. Oh my goodness, this is such a great post…well except for the fact that you don’t like coffee. Whaat?! Okay, I won’t hold it against you. ;-)Your Mom sounds like a hero. So does Mr. Horatio. “If I ruled the world, I would replace these stores with micro lending institutions that offered business development courses.” Hmm, it all starts with one…

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Ms. Fiology!

      Hahaha, I’ve never been a fan of coffee. They are both heroes! My dad, too! I am sure he is reading this :-).

      True! I need to do some research on how to get that project off the ground. I have used sites like, which is a micro lending platform, to donate money to those who need it in foreign countries.

    2. You are so right – it absolutely starts with one!

      Jerry, I hope you still have the passion to open these in the future. It would make a huge difference in so many lives.

      1. Hey, Kristine! Thanks for reading! Yes, it would make a huge difference! I’ll have to put a team together to see how we can go about turning this idea into reality.

        Enjoy your week. I am about to check out your blog.

    1. Thanks for reading, Amy! Having such wonderful parents has been a blessing! It is a very cool place to visit and get work done. Hopefully he can stay in business.

      See you at FinCon!

  2. Love your escape plan.

    To escape the ghetto, I devised a plan to become a basketball star. At the time, Kobe had just joined the Lakers and I wanted to be just like him. Instead of doing my homework, I would come home and play basketball at the neighborhood BREC park.

    I had a smile on my face for probably 5 minutes. And those two quarters you lost in dice? Big lessons learned.

  3. Great story! And I agree with you, nothing annoys me more than seeing these payday loan stores around poor neighboorhoods. I believe more education is needed on the negative financial impacts payday loans can cause on one’s finances longterm.

  4. This is a great read. The stories behind the journeys out of poverty is why I love reading other personal finance bloggers. Good luck on your journey.

  5. This is a great perspective Jerry. Thank you for sharing.

    I love that your Mom and Dad worked together to get your Mom a house outside the ghetto although they were divorced.

    It is interesting that those who can get out do. There is a bit of an “Atlas Shrugged” feel to it. A sadder way to think about it is that of a sinking ship with only so many lifeboats.

    I think men like Mr. Horatio are ultimately the answer. We have to educate young people about finances and that life is not linear. Kids cannot be blamed for thinking entertainment and sports are the only way out when that is all we celebrate as a society.

    1. You’re welcome, Drew! Thanks for reading!

      Yes! Even though my mom is remarried now, they still communicate about my siblings and I. We are lucky to have them.

      I just had to do some research on Atlas Shrugged. The plot seems very interesting! When you think of it that way, my lifeboat was having two parents that cared.

      Definitely agree with you that we need more men like Horatio! I wish him much success!

      See you at FinCon!!!

  6. What a well written lookback. I work in affordable housing, and it kills me how often the section 8 type communities are so separate from the rest of the housing in a city. You’re absolutely right that it isn’t just the housing that’s different, but the services that surround it. Love that coffee shop idea!

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Angela!! I am glad you enjoyed reading it. Hopefully the coffee shop continues to do well. Last week I saw that some people from Australia found out about it online and stopped by to support it.

  7. Things dont happen overnight but over time, anything is possible 🙂 your mom had a goal and over 10+ years, she helped her family out. Super inspiring!

    I love your positivity on life and am excited to see what the next few years hold for you.

    Great post Jerry!!!

  8. This was a great post. I enjoyed how well you wrote it. Mr Horatio is doing a great job and as you said, it just takes one ordinary person to make an extraordinary difference.

    Maybe you could open up a micro lending institution that offered business development courses? It sounds like a good idea.

    Keep it up!

  9. Thank you so much for writing this. It helped me better understand how my childhood growing up in two ghettos in America affected my outlook on life

    Especially the whole: when you get out of the ghetto, the first thing you do is not look back.

  10. What an inspiring story! Having spent most of my childhood at the end of a dirt road in the middle of the woods, although it seems on the face to be the complete opposite of your story, does have its similarities. My family had very little, and the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality was strong.
    I really appreciated both your and Mr. Horatio’s drive to make your communities stronger. That, I think, is one of the stronger messages of your story. The fact that anyone can will their way into a better life and then use that better life to improve the lives of others is really what it’s all about.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Captain DIY! I am interested in hearing more about your story! Have you shared it somewhere on your blog?

      I agree with you 100%! Mr. Horatio is doing an amazing job. He is hosting a number of events this month that I think will benefit the community.

  11. Great story! Two things stood out. First how we react to certain situations when young. The reality is young kids don’t care about where they live or how much money their family has. They just want to be loved. Second, I bet there are ways you can help your former neighborhood even though you don’t live there. For example, buying some of the run down properties in the areas and fixing up for rentals. Or donating money to a non-profit that provides support for the area.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, FP! Exactly! I was a happy child growing up because of the love my parents provided.

      Those are awesome ideas! I know a couple non-profit organizations I can start donating to.

      Have an incredible weekend, and I will see you at FinCon, right?

  12. I can really appreciate this post. My mom did a heck of job keeping me and my brother from getting mixed up in the mess that was going on in our neighborhood. Now I am exploring ways to get intentional legacy building on the radars of more people from the community I grew up in.

  13. Hey, Jerry,
    Great post. I love the honesty of it. Kudos to you and your parents for working hard to give you a better chance. I love that you want to give back. So many leave and never look back. The micro-lending concept is a good one. I think you’ll find good support for it. Probably not in traditional banks. Maybe a group of local businesses pooling together to set up a fund. Wouldn’t that be great? Local businesses giving back to help the community.
    You have the passion and drive. And you can tell the story of going from the ghetto to where you are.
    I say go for it.

    1. Hey Fred,

      It was nice meeting you at FinCon! Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing! Yes, they are the best! Without them, who knows where I would have ended up.

      Giving back is the right thing to do! I love the idea of local businesses pooling their resources together to set up a fund. That’s a really great idea.

      Thanks a lot for all of your encouragement!

  14. Thanks for such an interesting read. I think that the answer to growth in lower-income communities is a kind of “chicken and egg” problem. That is to say, predatory lenders are located in these areas because there is a “demand” for the services (people use them). If people were educated (via centers or other education), however, there would be not be a demand for the predatory lending, but there’s not much “demand” for education. It’s one of those situations where people don’t know that they need something (financial literacy), and therefore they don’t have a “demand” for it. I wonder what the answer is…maybe start at the local churches or vocational schools and work your way out from there? In any case, thanks again for this piece. All the best to you in the future!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Cheryl! I agree with you that it is kind of a “chicken and egg” problem. Also, I understand why the interest rates are so high but there has to be some sort of alternative.

      When I went to FinCon a couple weeks ago in Orlando, I learned about a company called Earnin who is trying to provide such an alternative. From what I understand, those who use the platform will have access to their money before their payday. For using the service, they can give any mount they like.

      It is currently funded by venture capitalists and private donations. I’ll have to do some more research on the company.

      Ultimately I believe financial literacy is the greatest weapon against economic exploitation. We must those in lower-income communities how to manage their money properly to avoid taking out payday loans in the first place.

      Thanks again for reading, Cheryl!

  15. Talk about timing. I am right now sitting in my local nonprofit coffee shop in the poorest section in my city. I usually buy a coffee and three to ten buttons in a large jar. I transfer these to a usually somewhat empty jar. Anyone can take five of these at a time to buy sandwiches, soup and coffee. No questions asked, though, I think there is a monthly limit.
    I’ve been rich. Now I’m sorta poor but I have less debt and more disposible income than when I was rich. I’ve learned through Rockstar Finance to value my money and not let it slip through my fingers buying stuff, so much stuff. Thank you.

  16. Cant believe I’m just reading this now but… wow, this was such an amazing post. I’m honestly lucky that I can’t relate to that situation but for you to be where you are now from where you came is so amazing man. I definitely support my local community by purchasing from local brands and stores, and sometimes (when I’m killing myself with side hustles) volunteer for local causes.

    Thanks for all you do and all you stand for Jerry!

    1. Thanks for reading, Cody! It’s so awesome to see someone so young and wise beyond his years doing great things.

      One thing that inspired me to write the post was reading Ms. Frugalwoods telling the story of living in the ghetto and feeling like an outsider. After reading it, I thought it would be cool to tell the story from my point of view.

      That’s awesome man! “In a world of suffering. Why should I be so blessed?” is a question I ask myself a lot. I may not have everything I want but I have everything I need. We are so blessed to be in a position to give back to others.

  17. I completely agree with you regarding payday lenders. They prey on people who are broke and desperate. I know because I got into trouble taking out 3 of them from different lenders at once. Thankfully, I learned my lesson and warn others to steer clear!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Christine! Yes, I remember watching a documentary on Netflix about a Nascar driver who ran a payday loan operation that scammed a lot of people out of their hard earned dollars. It was deeply upsetting to me.

      I am glad you learned your lesson. My advice would be to use payday loans as a last resort.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.