I’ve never shared most of my story in one place and although there are so many things to be proud of, sometimes when I think of my story I can’t help but hope that people don’t view me as a victim. I am so much more than the things that have happened to me. Yet the truth is my story has shaped my life’s mission and my ability to walk in my purpose in ways that my words will never be able to express.
I’m an 80’s baby and a product of a very fiery and toxic relationship. Many psychologists and therapists who’ve probably analyzed my environment while entering into this world, probably would all agree that I didn’t stand a chance. They would be correct in their initial assessment. But I’ve fought hard to beat the odds set out to destroy me.
My father was a drug dealer and a very well-known pimp in South Florida. My mother was a young and beautiful woman who loved men with money and power. There are stories of my father and mother being shot at while she was pregnant with me and then the terrible fights that they had while I was still in diapers. I was constantly around drug addicts, drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes and the like. Ironically, I’ve always had a certain comfort around those types of people, while I hated their choices that made them who they were. As a toddler, I took a sip of my first beer while I was still learning how to walk, actually the beer was used as motivation for me to walk forward, I know this because for years we used to watch the video as a family. For a good amount of my childhood, I was raised around both my grandfather and great-grandmother. These two people helped instill the importance of an education, self-motivation and hard work. I always admired my great grandmother and desired to be like her in many ways.
My parents split up before I turned two years old because there was another hit that was put out on their heads by prominent drug dealers based out of Miami, Florida. The efforts they used to take in order to secure their share of the drug business in southern Florida, which sometimes meant double-crossing, cheating and stealing from their competitors jeopardized their lives and those around them. A close friend of my mother and father was killed in an previous attempt on my father’s life and by the time the friend arrived to tell him, he was gunned down instead. My father fled to Knoxville, Tennessee and my mother briefly took refuge in Brunswick, Georgia. After the split, my mother entered a new relationship that almost cost her life as I unknowingly opened the door to our home for a jealous woman and watched my mother get stabbed in the back with a butcher knife. I wasn’t quite in Pre-K yet. This incident I recently realized caused me to silently live a life full of pain and regret as from that moment I always felt an obligation to protect my mother no matter what and I have always tried to no matter what it cost me.
My silent oath meant answering the phones, screening calls, snatching cigarettes from the mouths of adults, having full out arguments with adults as a child in defense of my mother and not trusting anyone who was supposed to be my mother’s friend. I knew how to search for a crack pipe in my mom’s ‘friends’ purses and was bold enough to throw them away before I entered 1st grade. However, during this time, I had been sexually molested, which created a whole slew of confidence, trust and self-love issues. My stepfather (whose former girlfriend stabbed my mother) was imprisoned and was sentenced to death row. This experience was traumatic for me since I loved him dearly and developed a huge sense of loyalty and commitment to him. We visited him in prison almost every other weekend or at least once a month and his sentence was eventually reduced to life in prison (which was 25 years at that time). So on my weekends as a child and young adolescent, I didn’t take vacations or travel to see the world. Our idea for fun and traveling was getting dressed up to drive almost two hours to sit in a visiting park of a prison and order noodles, candy and sodas from the prison’s visitor canteen. I’m sure I should have been in therapy by this time, but as you would guess that didn’t happen.
Oddly enough, I never had disciplinary problems in school. I was never the child in trouble, I somehow became the ‘teacher’s pet’ because I used school and education as my refuge. I’ve always been an honor student with numerous awards and trophies. I loved making people smile and was always involved in activities at school that would help me stay in school longer and have more responsibility. In elementary school, I was the safety patrol, the greeter, the class monitor and whatever else I needed to be to have something to be proud of. We bounced around between my aunt’s and living with my mother during her drug relapses. There was a very brief period where I was placed in foster care before my aunt could take custody of us. My school life was pretty good, but my unstable home environment took a toll on me and by the age of 10 years old I was already 200lbs. Since my home environment didn’t affect my academic performance, my therapy was food. In middle school, I was in the top 5% of my class, a percussionist, a symphonic and marching band member, a stepper, a basketball player and lots more.
My mother’s drug addiction took a huge toll on her health and life. Sadly, I’ve watched many of her friends die from health complications related to drug addiction, including AIDS. Shortly after she became clean, before I entered middle school, she endured a neck and back injury that caused her to become disabled which sent her into a deep depression. Her new addiction became prescribed pain pills. So during my high school years, I buried myself in everything I could find in school. I was in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program for three years and then abruptly removed because of a failing grade in Spanish IV Pre-IB… I guess you can say I might be still a little bitter about that. However, in high school, I really tried every activity that I could to keep me busy. I was in the marching band as a percussionist my freshman year, a stepper, dancer and I’ve been a volunteer since the age of 15 years old. Once I turned 16 years old, I worked 20 hours a week and went to school. During the summer before college, I worked two jobs to save enough money to help pay for my college application, admission fees and personal items that I needed for college. I received several scholarships, financial aid and decided to attend my life-long dream school, Howard University in Washington, DC. As you may be thinking, yes I wanted to get as far away from home as possible. I did not apply to one Florida university or college.
I transitioned pretty smoothly into college life. My freshman year, I became a member of the International Church of Christ (ICOC), dedicated my life to God and got baptized. This decision kept me from everything that could have took me under as a young and somewhat naive girl on such a party crazy and social campus. Although I experienced a very rough childhood, I never wanted to let a man be the reason that I didn’t achieve my goals, so I never got too tied up in relationships as a teenager. I took joy in having lots of quiet time on campus studying the Bible and writing poetry. I went out on dates, but they were all platonic, very fun and innocent.
Fortunately, a college professor took a huge interest in me. She became my mentor during college and I became her live-in personal assistant. Her mentorship allowed me to gain the much needed polishing and coaching I desperately needed coming from the hood to Howard. With her coaching, I became a more confident young lady. I entered into my first pageant and placed. She taught me the ins and outs of social and political networking as well as the complexities of being an entrepreneur with multiple streams of income. I learned about being a woman on the move from her.
I held the Resident Assistant leadership role for two years and also went on two different mission trips; the first to Manila, Philippines and gained my first taste of international travel and my second was to Hong Kong, China which also ended up traveling to Shenzhen, China and Jiangjiajie, China. I was amazed at how people lived in such poor conditions in other parts of the world, yet were so grateful, so humble and giving. I was amazed at how peaceful these people I met in the Philippines and China were. I also realized that love is universal. It didn’t matter what culture or religious background a person was from, we all as humans if we desire, we can show love to anyone. I also developed great friendships with the other participants and one in particular encouraged me to pledge to see a therapist once I returned back to the U.S. since I admitted to her that I was molested as a child. She also pledged to do the same since she was as well. So once I returned to Howard, I saw my first therapist at the age of 19 years old. These amazing international travel experiences gave me so much to live for and definitely helped shape me into the person I am today.
Let me re-wind back to my China experience and that time for a moment. My father passed away one year prior to my trip to China and I went through a very bitter stage in my relationship with God. I was angry, hurt and upset that I didn’t get a chance to spend the moments and time with my father as I had hoped and planned. We had rekindled our relationship while I was in middle school and I went to live with him and my stepmom for two summers during my middle school years. I had so much fun during those times in Knoxville because he was older, calmer and more focused on building a relationship with me. Prior to his death, he had been in a car accident and was paralyzed from the waist down. He seemed to be in good spirits, but had suffered a massive heart attack after the collision. He eventually quietly and abruptly died from another massive heart attack while I was away in college. His death was the beginning of a very dark downward spiral for me. I started having a very strong desire to have a family of my own and I had this obligation on God that I deserved this prayer to be answered. I went through a huge experience of rejection from someone who I thought was the answer to my prayers and started rebelling against God. I went home the summer before my ‘super-senior’ year, my stepfather was released from prison and found that it was nothing I could do to help my mother and stepdad come clean off their drug addiction. I felt defeated. I soon became involved in a tumultuous relationship with an ex-boyfriend that drastically changed the course of my life.
My decision to enter into that relationship caused me to experience things and treatment from a man that I had never thought possible, including domestic violence abuse, homelessness and being arrested and stung with a taser gun by the police. I realized that my bitterness at God, became a trap to ensnare me into the dark reality that so many women face who seek a man to solve their problems, which result in much bigger and more painful problems. So when I went to China, I didn’t realize that I was in my first week of pregnancy. After returning back to school from China, I left during my fourth month of pregnancy and when I eventually returned my housing was terminated as I wasn’t an enrolled student; at that time I was now homeless and pregnant. My first stay in a homeless shelter was in a house located in NE DC run by Catholic nuns in the same order as Mother Teresa. I learned so much from those women about being centered in peace no matter what. I lived there for two months and once my son turned six weeks old, I moved to a transitional home for homeless women and children in NW DC near Howard’s campus. While living there, I received mentorship in the form of mock interviewing, resume & cover letter writing, budgeting and salary negotiation training from two Georgetown MBA graduates and one Auburn University graduate. I finished out my senior year in that transitional home, received four substantial job offers and eventually relocated from DC to work for Payless ShoeSource headquarters in Topeka, Kansas.
I’ve since dedicated my life to empowering women and youth. In whatever way possible, I always try to find a way to give back and help others. I share bits and pieces of my story with as many people as I can through poetry, serving as a speaker, mentor, volunteer or program facilitator.
Programs: Empowered YOU, TheraPoetry, Woman on the Move micro-stage play & book launch, Partnering with the Experimental Association of Aviation (EAA) Young Eagles Programs to bring out minority youth
Art Workshops: April is for Authors – Speaker, Middle School Contest Facilitator & Judge
Speaker: Celebrate Literacy Week!, Boca Raton’s Promise – Breaking the Silence, Kiwanis Club of Flagler Sunrise, Urban League Young Professionals College Takeover, Florida Council Teacher’s of English (FCTE) Conference
I’ve experienced many amazing achievements such as being crowned Ms. Florida Plus America 2012, Kiwanis Presenter Award, YWCA Grace Dodge Finalist, National Mentoring Month Award. Additionally, I’ve been featured on many online radio shows and magazines including Bronze Magazine, The Big Chat, Arts Radio Network and Social Media For Entertainers. I absolutely love seeing the world and since traveling to the Philippines and China, I’ve traveled to six more countries: Jamaica, Canada, Mexico, UK, France and Spain as a single parent. I’ve dedicated a lot of time and research to helping share international travel saving strategies and techniques through social media. Since so many people have sacrificed their time and resources to help uplift me, I try to do the same with what I’ve been given.
There is so much more that could be added here about my life and it’s never ending pendulum, but I have to leave some things for the book! If you’ve been encouraged by reading this snapshot of my life and would like me to share my story to empower your girls, women or youth organization then please contact me today!