Mark Wahlberg is opening up about how he, and his hometown of Boston, have changed for the better over the years, and why his city continues to inspire him.
The actor’s latest film, Patriots Day, tells the story of the Boston Marathon bombings, and the city’s response to the terror attack. Wahlberg knew the film would be controversial, and it was important to him that the delicate subject matter be covered the right way.
Asked what he hopes audiences will take away from the film, Wahlberg told PEOPLE simply, “This light and love, the inspiration.”
But he also hopes the film will help change the way “people outside of Boston perceive Boston to be.” While the actor has become nearly synonymous with his city, he says, “With the busing strikes [in the 1970s] and the racial tension, I wasn’t always as proud [of Boston], other than my sports heroes. Certainly not in the way I was when I saw my community respond in this situation.”
When Wahlberg was growing in Boston, the public school system was going through a mandated period of desegregation. The mixing of races led to a series of violent racial protests and riots that garnered national attention. “Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, it was pretty much all we knew, a deep racial divide,” he told reporters during a press conference.
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During this period of civic turmoil, Wahlberg was going though his own problems, skipping class and getting into trouble with the police. In 1988, when Wahlberg was 16, he was convicted as an adult of assault and other charges stemming from a convenience store robbery.
“I think the fact that I’ve been able to turn my life around and really make my mom proud and become a better person through focusing on my faith, it always gives me great sense of pride to come home,” Wahlberg told PEOPLE.
While he has spent much of his adult life focusing on becoming a better person, with Patriots Day, Wahlberg hopes to show the world a different side of Boston as well.
After witnessing his city’s unified response to the bombing, Wahlberg said, “It filled me with such pride to call myself a Bostonian. I kind of beat my chest for reasons other than what Larry Bird did, or the Patriots do. This love and strength is so powerful, and knowing that we can still come out after a horrible event and radiate this love is special for me.”
Ultimately, Wahlberg hopes the city’s response to the bombing, as well as his own individual growth, will inspire today’s youth in Boston and beyond. “I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’ve done a lot to turn my life around. And I encourage and challenge people like myself to do the same, but more importantly, I want to encourage young people growing up in that situation first and foremost to avoid the mistakes that I made. There isn’t anything you can’t accomplish by hard work.”
Patriots Day is in limited release now and expands nationwide on Jan. 13.
•Reporting by MEGAN JOHNSON