Eric Betancourt teaches 5th grade writing at AF Hartford Summit Middle.
Growing up here in the north end of Hartford had a huge impact on my life. I saw a lot of the ways that people in the community were impacted by violence. A few men that were close to my family lost their lives on Center Street. I remember seeing the ripple effects of these tragedies on my family. My mom would never let me go to the bus stop alone, even though it was right outside the house, because she feared for my life. And I internalized this for a long time. I believed that I had to do what I could to get out, and I saw school as the way. I was successful—I got great grades, and I was a high achiever. At one point, my teachers recommended sending me to another school so that I could better myself. That reinforced this idea that I had to get out of Hartford.
And I did. When I graduated from high school, I went to Boston University on almost a full ride scholarship. I thought I was doing everything that I had to do to be successful.
Then, I graduated from college and moved to Los Angeles. I was happy and living the life I wanted to, but then reality struck again. One of my cousins was shot and killed in Hartford. It was a big moment of re-centering in my life that allowed me to realize what I was doing was selfish.
I thought I was giving back. I was working in schools in LA, teaching the next generation of leaders, but I wasn’t doing it for my community. It’s really hard to push kids to be leaders in the community when I wasn’t doing that myself. That’s why I knew I had to come back to Hartford. That’s why I wanted to teach here at AF Hartford Summit. Because down the road, there are kids just like me growing up just like I did, and they deserve to go to college and share in the joy and autonomy that I feel in being able to make my life mine. I want our students to be able to make their lives theirs. That’s why I’m here.