In Their Own Words
THIS IS MY STORY // by Delanie Walker
I traded a beer for my first tattoo at age 13. We were in a Motel 6, drinking and making noise. I was with older guys. I was so big for my age, I always hung out with the older guys.
The man in the room next to ours heard us stirring up trouble and came over asking if we had any alcohol. He said he could do tattoos.
I tried to pick something that wouldn't piss off my mom. So I got her name on my forearm.
Getting a tattoo in a Motel 6 definitely wasn't the worst of what I was doing at 13.
See, I grew up in Eastside Pomona, near Los Angeles, in a two-bedroom apartment with four people. I shared a room with my brother. My mom and her boyfriend had the other room.
Everybody that lived in my neighborhood was either on welfare or collecting support from the government. Or they were gang banging and selling drugs.
My neighborhood was infested with gangs. We used to get jacked all the time. That's when police jump out and check you for weapons. You'd just be walking down the street or hanging around and they'd jump out and shake you down.
Looking back is so crazy, man. There were so many things I did and saw that I had no reaction to. Just no reaction to seeing somebody getting stabbed, getting shot, somebody pulling a gun on me. None of that scared me at the time because it was so normal. It was just a part of life for me. I was numb to it.
But looking back now, it scares me. I always sit back and I realize that it wasn't right but when you don't know anything else, that's how you react to it, because you think: that's just the way it goes.
My friends growing up, they're still in that neighborhood, either gang bangers or they've been killed. Or they're in prison.
I can tell you right now three things got me out of that neighborhood and out of that lifestyle: my mom, football and school.
My mom worked two jobs as a nurse. She worked in the hospital during the day and at a nursing home at night. She was already at work when I went to school and got home after I went to sleep. I have no idea when she slept.
The thing about my mom is she always made me feel like I was better than my circumstances. Like I could do better. She always said: "People want to keep you in a box. It's up to you if you stay there or not."
I decided I didn't want to stay in the box. I didn't want to be a follower. I didn't want to follow my friends down the road to selling drugs, to prison, to the graveyard.
So when my friends didn't do certain things, I did them. Like going to school and taking things seriously.
I was gifted with the size and athleticism to play football but better believe I would not be in this league if it wasn't for school. Kids see me driving fancy cars and having multiple houses and the clothes. They want that but some of them don't want to go to school. It's so backwards.
Thank god I've had success in this league. Because now I have the opportunity to say that. I never had anyone come and speak to me, to my friends. To tell us how it could be different. How it didn't have to be this way, how it shouldn't be this way.
That's the thing. When I'm talking to kids, kids like me and my friends, I let them know. I let them know that they can be whoever they want to be. I always use that box statement because that's it. Area codes are your box. An area code can define your outcome if you let it. Be different.
I started my foundation in 2014 to do that, to help kids be different. I want to show people as much as possible about how I came up and how I struggled to get where I am today. And to encourage them to take control.
Because how you started doesn't have to be how you finish.
This is My Story // Delanie Walker