Image by Akintola Hanif

South Ward: Aliyah

Growing up, everyone knew me and I didn’t have problems with people or my peers, period, because I was respected already. In school it was ok because I wasn’t the only gay girl. I played basketball from my elementary years and it used to be me and a ton of boys at the basketball yard.

It was fun growing up back then— that’s when things were safer. We used to run around playing manhunt till one in the morning. There weren’t any police asking why we were outside, no one was getting robbed, none of that that crazy stuff. We used to ride bikes. Kids don’t ride bikes like that anymore.

I went to Malcolm X Shabazz High School and played basketball there. By my junior year I knew I had to get myself together and stay away from certain people. I live in the South Ward, so I’m already somewhere that’s affiliated with smoking, partying—all that stuff’s around me. I see a lot of stuff, like people getting shot, and I try to stay away from it.

People are always saying “Newark is bad, Newark is bad.” But at community college, having me on the team was an asset. My high school coach told me that the way I play, and the attitude I bring to the game — it’s hard. “She’s aggressive, she’s not scared,” and that’s how I feel like I am, being from Newark.

Newark can either make you or break you. You let the people around you or your city control you and you’ll become like them. There’s a lot of successful people out of Newark, but that becomes your story, “You’re from Newark.” But you get respect ’cause it’s not easy out here. So that’s a compliment.

Aliyah Muhammad, Osbourne Terrace & Eckhert Avenue
As told to Atoosa Moinzadeh