Every year around this time, many people begin reflecting on the people, opportunities, and things that they are grateful for. We reflect on the situations and obstacles that got us to the point we’re at today, and for most, there is an overwhelming spirit of gratitude and appreciation. Although I’ve been a little MIA on my blog (taking care of a new baby, moving the needle in my career, planning a wedding and then executing on it!), I try to ensure that I write a December post to symbolize getting through another year. Scratch that. Getting through insinuates it was hard, so I’ll use the phrase “celebrating another year” instead.
This morning, I watched an inspiring video LeBron James posted on Instagram. The video shows kids in Akron – kids who may or may not have similar upbringings to his – who are benefiting from his I Promise School. His video caption states that Nike took a chance on him, enabling him to provide opportunities for at-risk youth in Akron. Watching the video gave me the chills, because I can relate to this experience. Although I consider myself relatively successful now, I was most definitely classified as one of those “at-risk” youth in Hartford, CT. Whenever I tell people I’m from CT, the first assumption is that I was some rich kid from Greenwich. Those who know Hartford know that is far from the truth. In stark contrast to Greenwich, it is considered, even to this day, the poorest city in CT. As of 2016, 77% of students in Hartford qualify for free or reduced price lunches. This is a number that has been constant since my childhood, and I fell into that percentage back then.
Growing up, if your parents had jobs in Hartford, they weren’t typically the ones that brought financial security. It just meant they were working poor, and oftentimes, still depended on state assistance programs and food banks to make ends meet. Before the age of 18, I lived in 13 different apartments, and even lived in a motel with my parents and siblings for a few months. I lived in neighborhoods that were wrought with gang violence and drug dealers, and some mornings, would walk around with my older brother to look for empty bottles we could return to the store for money. There were many winter nights we didn’t have money for oil heat, and my father would turn on the gas stove, leaving it open to heat our home, and stay up all night to make sure we didn’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning. THAT is the kind of at-risk youth I was. So what caused me to not succumb to the lure of the streets? Sponsors and opportunities.
I was considered a bright child, so from the very beginning, I had many people rooting for me. These sponsors, for some reason, saw something special in me. My parents knew I was a voracious reader, and would encourage me to learn more. All of my teachers, from elementary school on, pushed me to be better. Mrs. Faye in first grade, who had me tested for our Gifted and Talent program; Ms. Leyhow in fourth grade, who recognized my love for writing and took me to museums and special writing events; Ms. Thornton in six grade, who taught all of us to remember that as Black children, we could want and do anything we set our mind to; and Mr. King in high school, who always made sure I was giving everything 110%. One of my dear friends, Dayl Walker, was someone from the corporate world who worked with our high school technologies program and opened the door to my first real corporate job when I was 17. They all showed me a life outside of the confining streets of the inner city, and this made me want to strive for more. At 19, I became pregnant with my first child, and like many of my peers, could have caused me to give up and become a statistic. It was too late for that though, because I had already tasted a different world. My foundation was too strong, and instead of quitting, I worked harder. I maintained a full time load at the local community college and worked full time, all while pregnant. I wanted more out of life, and I was going to get it by any means necessary. I continued my formal education until I earned a graduate degree, and had a second baby during that time as well.
All of this background is to stress that my story isn’t special, because it happens more often than not, but it can be isolated. I think of all of the talent in our inner cities that is being wasted, because of the lack of sponsors and opportunities that these kids have access to. So when I personally hear a story like LeBron’s, and I see that he’s giving back to the community that raised him, I reflect, and this reinvigorates me. With a country that seems to always been in a constant state of turmoil, it is these stories that breathe life back into my soul and motivate me. As you finish out this year, I hope you take a few moments to reflect as well. Pat yourselves on the back for all you’ve accomplished this year, all you’ve overcome, and pinpoint what provides you with the biggest inspiration. It’s easy to set resolutions, but it’s more fruitful to reset your soul. Peace and blessings for the new year.