A 15-year-old Mangere student has spoken out against outsiders who label the low-income suburb as "the Compton of Auckland" and says his generation is ready to break the stereotype.
Paul Lesoa, a third-generation Mangere-born Samoan-New Zealander, submitted an article to a local newsletter 275 Times saying: "There are people who may call us 'overstayers'. Well, if I'm that, then I'm going to overstay and change this country for the better."
The article, The Voice of Mangere's Future, has been viewed by 50,000 people on the 275times Facebook page, suggesting that it's been read well beyond the 3105 local residents whose landline phone numbers start with 275.
"We are a small little page with 2000 followers, but this has ended up going out well beyond that just because what Paul's saying about the community has resonated with so many people," said editor Justin Latif.
Paul said he wrote the article because he resented Mangere being compared with places like the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, described by Urban Dictionary as an area that is "very poor and revolves around gang violence, sex and drug dealing".
"When I'm with friends from different schools and I say I'm from Mangere College, they say they've heard a lot of bad things," he said.
"So I wrote that for our own community to read that. It's breaking the stereotype that people put on our school."
Although born in Mangere, Paul lives between two suburbs. He spends weekends in Manurewa with his mum and his dad, a warehouse worker. But he stays during the week with his grandmother in Mangere, went to primary school there, and won an entrance scholarship which paid for his uniform and stationery when he went to Mangere College in 2014.
He is now in year 11 studying for level 1 NCEA in English, maths, history, geography and sports science. He's also on the school council and is the lock in the school's Second XV rugby team which made it to the finals of the local championship last year.
His four older siblings have also been through Mangere College and are all working. One older sister is a youth worker, and Paul also wants to find "a job that helps young people".
College principal Tom Webb said Paul sent his article to 275 Times on his own initiative. Mr Latif, a community worker at the local law centre who runs the newsletter with his wife Joanne in their spare time, told the school about it, and Paul's English teacher Marie Campbell "helped me fix my words up".
"I wasn't expecting that much attention," Paul said. "I hope that people can read it and I hope it relates to them."
Read full letter below:
My name is Paul Lesoa, aged 15, and a proud student of Mangere College. A lot of outsiders who are not from South Auckland look down on where we come from - Mangere 275.
Mangere is where most of us Islanders live. Mangere is home and I know a lot of people are afraid to tell people that they come from Mangere. Looking from the outside in people label us as the Compton of Auckland. There are people who may call us 'overstayers'. Well, if I'm that, then I'm going to overstay and change this country for the better. I'm going to change Mangere's reputation to a good one. I'm going to try my best to inspire other kids my age, younger and older, to dream big.
The schools in Mangere may not have the flashest facilities or have the luxuries that other schools have but we have a bond, we can relate to each other, we all have a common goal and that's to make our parents proud.
At Mangere College, last year's NCEA results were the best results our school has ever had. We don't need the nicest resources if we have a big heart and a big dream. Any brown kid can make it big. We can be the next SBW, the next doctor, the next principal or even the next Prime Minister. We just need to believe. We need to realise we are more than just the brown statistic.
Our school has produced school principals, police officers, barristers, nurses, doctors, sporting legends and music stars. They had to work hard to get where they are now so that inspires us to work hard and to believe.
We can be the generation that gives Mangere a good reputation for the rest of Auckland. We can be the generation that breaks the stereotype.
Mangere in figures
• 62,745 people
• 38 per cent under 20 (NZ 27 per cent)
• $20,300 median income (NZ $28,500)
• 61 per cent Pasifika (NZ 7 per cent), 20 per cent European (NZ 74 per cent), 16 per cent Maori (NZ 15 per cent), 16 per cent Asian (NZ 12 per cent)