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‘An accomplishment I can say that I’m really proud of is that I graduated.’

Lawrence Malik Bolds outside of Jules E. Mastbaum High School in Kensington. (Photo by Solmaira Valerio)

My name is Lawrence Malik Bolds, and I am a 2011 Jules E. Mastbaum High School graduate. I have been working as a sales representative for the past five years. In my free time, I love making music and working on my podcast called the “Gentlemen’s Lobby,” where we talk about personal experiences. 

I was born and raised in Philadelphia my entire life, and I have moved around different parts of the city. Both my parents were also born in Philadelphia. My dad grew up in Kensington, and my mom in Germantown. For some of my childhood, I lived in Germantown. Once I became a teenager, we moved to Olney, which wasn’t as bad as my dad growing up in Kensington, but it still had its fair share of obstacles and troubles. At school, we were often involved in daily fights. There were a lot of drugs being sold in the area, as well as robberies that took place. Several times, people broke into our home when we lived there. 

Getting into Mastbaum was a little difficult because I transferred from New Media Technology Charter High School. When I transferred to Mastbaum, it was completely different from what I experienced in my former high school. It was a much bigger school with three times more students and a more diverse setting than what I was familiar with. 

What influenced my choice in choosing Mastbaum simply came from all the vocational programs the school offered. From automotive to welding to nursing, the possibilities seemed endless. However, I didn’t live close to Mastbaum. Taking the 8 Express bus and then the El train definitely had its fair share of challenges. Certain issues, such as drugs, fighting, and stealing, all took place at the Frankford terminal and on the El. 

I believe that I gained and missed out on a lot during my three years in Mastbaum. I gained a lot of knowledge when it came to cars and the automotive world. Even though I didn’t pay too much attention, I still took some valuable information from the vocational class and applied it to my life, like changing brakes, taking out and putting in the struts on a car, changing oil, changing rotors, and wheel alignments. I also made great friends and memories, which will stick with me forever. What I missed out on was taking advantage of putting my best foot forward to get a college education. Not taking it as seriously as I should’ve potentially cost me a scholarship to a college of my choice. I honestly believe Mastbaum did everything to provide us students with the tools and research to be ready for life after high school.

I personally had some teachers who taught us about building credit and the importance behind it. Those teachers also gave us the resources to find what college we’d like to go to. They prepared us for those types of college classes and gave us what we needed to succeed in future employment and/or college if that was the path we wanted to take. It wasn’t the most high-quality type of education some other schools offered, but looking back on it, I really believe the teachers knew that and did their best to make sure we were prepared for life after high school, even if we didn’t listen.

Lawrence Malik Bolds (top right) poses for a photo with his band Undead Talent in 2011. (Photo courtesy of Maria Qualtieri)

Being a high school student came with tons of challenges besides education. I was very big into rock music, playing the guitar, and being in a band, which wasn’t very popular to everyone else. This made me stand out. I was looked at very differently, but classmates also welcomed me with tons of questions and interest. It was very challenging being a Black kid, listening to and indulging in rock music because not everyone can relate to it. 

The biggest challenge was always explaining why I connected to rock music. The music felt so relatable at that age; it was an escape. I’d listen to Bullet For My Valentine like the song “Tears Don’t Fall”, and the passion behind the lyrics and the instruments was something I couldn’t explain. At times it felt like being a Black guy listening to rock music, you’re looked at differently. You don’t see a lot of Black people make the type of rock music I listen to. It made it challenging to the point where I felt like an outcast in my family and even with Black classmates who categorized me as a “weirdo” because they didn’t listen to rock music. 

An accomplishment I can say that I’m really proud of is that I graduated. Growing up, it wasn’t something I thought I would ever do because of my surroundings and the pressure of being a young Black man going to a high school that wasn’t particularly in the best setting. Growing up in that type of setting, you already have all the odds against you. As a young Black man, the default standards are to either play sports, sell drugs, or just fail. Also, doing something out of the ordinary, like being in a band, or being a lawyer, or being a doctor, brings a lot of good and bad attention. You’re either congratulated or frowned upon. 

I think the greatest lessons that high school could’ve ever taught me were to be open, honest, and to really go after what you want. There were friends I had during my time at Mastbaum who helped me to be me and not to worry about what anyone outside my circle said. They believed in me and pushed me to chase things like music and just to be myself. I can say that not a lot of people will ever get to experience that, and I am forever grateful to them for those gifts! 

I appreciate the opportunity given to talk about my journey & experiences through Jules E. Mastbaum. Thank you so much!!


Editors: Solmaira Valerio, Zari Tarazona / Designer:Jillian Bauer-Reese

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