Long Island City High School Queens
Until now, the main preoccupation of the youngsters strolling around at the Long Island City High School I visited, was the shape of their pants and staking out the next girl they would date. The ultimate aim was to show no emotion and to be „cool“.
This has changed radically for some since September 11, 2001. The US Army has been aggressively recruting young people in public high schools for the Junior ROTC Program. Who would have imagined that so many students who loved to be „gangsta“ would show such enthusiasm for joining the program?
I tried to find out what was drawing them to the army: A better education, the possibility of going to college ? No, the main attraction, it seems, is the prospect of becoming a part of a bigfamily. Something that was very often missing in their life until now.
I asked a young recruit his reason for joining the JROTC. His response was that he likes getting some discipline in his life and the strict rules but, mostly, that the JROTC has become his true family in the past two years. The recruiter, a really wholesome and steady personality, has become a real father figure to many of them. Someone who cares, listens and makes them feel wanted. Most of the recruits are from imigrant families and to many this is their way of finally becoming real Americans.
The young people´s attitude change shows when the whole schole recites the pledge of allegiance. The JROTC members are sharp and prompt and jump up with the hand on the heart, while the others continue to do their utmost to look cool.
Is it truly the only way to turn these young people around ? Can`t we provide the same experience and benefits without the prospect of battles, war and possibly death ? It seems unfortunate that the idea of finding the last decimal of Pi, inventing the next best medicine, or becoming an Olympic medailist, can not bring disipline and family spirit.
In most movies, it`s individualism, being your own master, and following your dreams that matters. But here in the program, the self gets subsumed in the corps spirit and the ideal is to disappear as an individual and to blend in.
Trap or opportunity? Chance to make something of yourself or to go to war.
Only the future will tell for these children.
Katharina Neuwirth | Photographer