L IFE IS A G IFT Life is a gift, even in struggles there is always hope if you choose to see it that way; this is what I learned at a young age. The events that occurred in my childhood were somber; growing up in the projects was very imprisoning. I was the little girl on the steps with lice in my hair and dirty clothes, a stereotype one would judge as trash. I was 14 when I became pregnant with my oldest child, Roy. Little did I know dressing like Madonna and having fun with friends was soon going to be replaced with responsibilities, climbing mountains that seemed endless, and many dark valleys to be endured. Statistically I was set up for a life full of failure. Deep down, even at a young age, I knew I was going to overcome the challenges that come with being a teen mom: public housing, jobless because of unmet age requirements, and a newborn. Teenage girls need room to make mistakes and learn from them, but unfortunately, those choices only made my life harder growing into a young adult.
S HOCK AND H ORROR I will never forget the look of shock followed by disappointment on my mothers face when I told her I was pregnant. I felt like a total embarrassment, as she was a devout Catholic. However, her love overpowered my circumstance. She and I made a deal, she would watch my son while I worked and went to school. My first job was at a seafood restaurant earning minimum wage (which at the time was $3.35/hr.) and my son was almost a year old before I was even old enough to work. I soon found myself working 40 hours a week if given the chance by my employer. At the age of 16, a nearly full-time job plus school was overwhelming. I did not have time to have fun with friends. It was clear that babysitting while I went out with friends was NOT a part of the deal I had with my mom. With all of these stressful challenges and disliking school to begin with, it was an easy but regrettable decision to quit, putting education as a low priority.
18 Five days after my 18th birthday, I was a newlywed. The poor decision of quitting school weighed heavily on me as a mom and adult. The best decision I could have ever made was to put myself first for once and obtain my GED. I studied hard and there was no backing down. My mindset was limitless! I am proud to say I earned my equivalency diploma in the same year my class graduated.
20 At the age of 20 I gave birth to my second son, Nicholas; Roy was now five. I found the courage to divorce my abusive husband, leaving me to be a single mom of two with no college education and little hope. I had a right to become a statistic; it was not easy raising two kids alone. I also had an equal right to better myself and provide for my family. It was all up to me, I was determined to raise my sons and make a better life for us at all costs. I worked two to three jobs just to pay my bills. We lived in apartments not quite suitable for a family, but I refused to raise my kids in the projects – I made a promise to myself, I was NEVER going back there.
B RAKE W IRES Most of what we owned was given to us. Our furniture never matched and my cars were always unreliable. At one time, I had to hold two wires together when I hit the brakes just so the brake lights would work! If ever there was a time I did not have money, I picked up another job and simply worked harder. I walked around very tired for years because I was constantly working, taking college courses and raising my sons. Excuses were not a part of my daily routine. Many times, we still ran out of money and someone would come along to help in some way by buying groceries or a gallon of gas to get us home. It was a nice reminder that I was not alone.
C OLLEGE I made another critical decision: going to a local community college. One of my fondest memories from that stage of my life was a conversation I had with my coworker and friend, Teresa. One night we were talking about my decision to go to college while sweeping floors after the restaurant closed. Teresa saw my work ethic in picking up other peoples shifts to make ends meet and she knew I wanted to give my boys a good life. She looked at me and said, One day your boys are going to be so proud of you. Those words stayed with me throughout the years and became my motivation to push forward. I wanted so badly for my sons to be proud of me for never giving up, never abandoning them while taking the easy path of lethargy, and always doing what I thought was best for us to the best of my ability. I never won a mom of the year award, as I was still young and was learning from my mistakes but always have loved my children more than they will ever comprehend – to infinity and beyond as I like to tell them.
D OORS OF O PPORTUNITIES I knew college would open doors of opportunity. As I look back on those days, a mentor would have been perfect as I was young and not well advised about my options. I am so passionate about helping others achieve education and being a mentor to whoever reaches out because it is the very thing I so desperately needed at that crucial time in my life. I went through college on my own for about a year and did not re-enroll. I continued to work, barely managing each week. Several years later, I earned my first associates degree. Soon after, I decided to finish the business degree I started many years earlier. That is about the time I began to reclaim my self-esteem and gain confidence unseen within.
U NSTOPPABLE After achieving my second degree, I was unstoppable! I realized how much I loved school. Along the way, I married again, this time truly meaning my vows. My wonderful husband has supported every dream I have ever had and has stood by my side every step of the way.
L IFE GETS B ETTER Life is so very different now than it was 25 years ago when I was a pregnant teen, eating mayonnaise sandwiches without bread in public housing, between working and going to school. I overcame the odds. Statistics state that teen moms are less likely to finish high school and less likely to go to college. I never allowed that to be my story! I am well educated, living in a beautiful home in Florida, my boys became men and I can relax on a nice day beside my amazing husband.
B LESSED Growing up has been a challenge, but I would never appreciate how good it feels to be blessed if everything was handed to me preventing me from overcoming lifes challenges. I like to look at the bright side and realize the poor choices in my younger years helped me to develop the good decision-making skills I possess today. Many more lessons are to be learned and I know God has not finished His calling for my life, I believe it has only just begun. I stand proud today with a GED in one hand and a doctorate in the other.