Editor's note: The following vignettes on people in Camden, N.J., tell about what life is like in the city. To learn more about some of the subjects, visit www.nwi.com/camden to watch videos from people describing their life.
It's hard for Rasheeda Moton to fathom what has happened to her hometown.
Moton, 58, said Camden used to be beautiful, but the abandoned buildings, drug use and lack of opportunities have hurt the city. Moton admits she was a troubled teen who dabbled in drug use although she came from a good family. She said converting to Islam and reading the Qu'ran helped her change her path. Many of the people she grew up with have died from drug overdoses or AIDS or have severe drug or alcohol-related health problems today.
"They told me I was supposed to be dead, but I'm still alive and kicking," Moton said. Less than two years after a three-year stint in prison, she was married and later had nine children.
Moton has spent part of her life and raising her children in Saudi Arabia, and she recommends people from Camden leave the city in order to get a different perspective. Moton and her family also are praying her 21-year-old son Jaffar Muhammad gains leniency from a judge next month in a potential sentence for conspiracy and drug charges.
Many of the problems in the community stem from young people seeing a lack of opportunities for themselves. Her hope is that instead of steering youth away from careers in entertainment, Moton said curiosity should be encouraged.
Sadly, she still sees Camden as an uphill battle as people in city neighborhoods continue to see an erosion in their living conditions.
"It's so much damage been done in Camden," she said.
Dominic Petulla refuses to move his business from the city of Camden despite having multiple opportunities to do so over the years.
Petulla, 76, continues to own and operate Gold-Star Shoe Repairing, which is the business his father opened in 1929 after immigrating from Italy.
"I really don't regret it," Petulla said. "At my age now, I spend a lot of time with my grandkids."
He also said the cost of real estate in suburbs near as Cherry Hill is enormous that he doubted revenue would cover what may be required to operate.
The direction of his business has mirrored the decline of conditions in the city, more importantly his street. Petulla's shop is located on what was once a thriving retail corridor in the city on Broadway. Now, drugs are easier to find on the street than fresh produce.
He doubts the business will return to its heyday when clients were aplenty in the early days after inheriting the store. However, he sees that with the progress being made with the medical school development, the colleges and the city building new properties, some people will return to the city.
Jose "Bolo" Gonzalez
Jose Gonzalez's home in North Camden is a makeshift community hub.
His door is always open and so are his benches – for weightlifting.
Gonzalez, 45, runs a gym out of his home, which is filled with dumbbells, punching bags and other weightlifting equipment.
Gonzalez, who has spent time in prison, sees opening the gym as his way to give back to the community. He said his father doesn't like the idea of him running the gym out of his home. But most of the equipment was donated to him and he sees it as a way people of all ages so that they can stay out of trouble.