National Health Week, which runs from April 2-8, focuses on the Power of Home. The Richmond City Health District has partnered with a variety of organizations across Richmond to fight the false narratives that surround our fellow residents living in low-resource communities. Grid, along with other local publications, are featuring a series of letters from residents in Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority communities. The following is from Zoquan Witcher, 17, a junior at Franklin Military Academy and Hillside Court Resident
My name is Zoquan Witcher. I moved to Hillside Court from Henrico with my mother and brother and three sisters when I was in the 4th grade. I’m a Junior at Franklin Military Academy now, where I sing in the a capella chorus, FM Stereo. I work at KFC on nights and weekends, about 40 hours a week.
I didn’t want to live in Hillside at first. I didn’t want to go to a new school and meet new people. I didn’t want to be bothered with anyone. It took me a week or two even to get outside and see what Hillside was like. It was summer, and there were 100 people out here, everyone having fun, playing music, cooking out. It was different from what I knew, and different from what I expected. After a while, I got used to it, and learned to be a little more outgoing – Hillside is a good environment for that.
My brother is 13 and he and I share a room, which is okay. It can be chaotic with all of us living in one place – when we clash, we can stay mad at each other for a whole day, but our bond is always there, and we know it.
I pay my own phone bill and car insurance, and if my brother or sister need anything, they can ask me and I’ll give it to them – money for a field trip, or just going to the store to get something. I never want them to feel like they have to go to anybody other than my mom or me if they need anything. Because I’m here, and I work.
My mom is a security guard supervisor at Phillip Morris. She works overnight, and we’re home without her while we’re sleeping. It was scary at first to be without her, but we got used to it. I was 14 when she started that job, and my youngest sister was six or seven. She was more scared than the rest of us, but I was there, so she was okay.
After high school, I’d like to go to Howard University to study Radiology – I like technology and hands-on work. Howard is close to home, but I also want to be somewhere far. I know I’ll have to work hard, but I’m working hard already. Hillside has helped with that. Living in public housing pushes you. It makes you want to achieve your goals. Out in the neighborhood, you see all the activities going on around, and you tell yourself: You don’t want to do that, Witcher. You don’t want to fall down the wrong path. You want to be something in life. It motivates you to do better.
My mother is working on a plan, so we may be moving by June. She wants my brother and sisters in a better neighborhood, better surroundings. It will be bittersweet to move – I’ve been here since elementary school, and I’m used to this neighborhood, but I don’t want my younger siblings to think it’s okay to do some of what they see out here. Hillside has been home for us, but I want my family to have every opportunity to be what they want to be in life.
-Zoquan Witcher, 17
Photo by Cheyenne Varner