The curtain rises on a bleak scene somewhere on the west side of the South Bronx. For the next 12 minutes, not a word is spoken. Instead, the finger-snapping hooligans emerge in a dance sequence. The mood is sinister, establishing the emotional climate and a warning of the impending doom of both the Jets and the Sharks.
In 1961, the film “West Side Story” captured 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Overnight, the gang culture was elevated to iconic status. In the neighborhoods, you were either a Jet or a Shark.
Throughout the Bronx, the gang kids began to flex their muscles, appearing more brazen in the tactics of intimidation.
Being schooled by the strictest taskmasters at Mount Saint Michael Academy, my gang persona began to wane. I was able to find clarity and began to understand the psychosocial issues of the gang culture. As a young adult, I would become a street-gang counselor and attempt to prevent the inevitable.