How do you swallow the bitterness of poverty, lack, and living in the margins? There are two options: stay where you’re at and perpetuate what you see or push to go further with hopes of crossing over into a new reality. I knew early on that I could, like my parents, get caught in the loop of the system and become addicted to complaining and coping… or I could follow my grandmother’s footsteps into the realm of possibilities while trying to overcompensate for delayed learning amidst the constant attempt to reconcile the feelings of inadequacy with the desperate pangs of more than this.
Crossing the invisible threshold of society’s margins is an uphill journey, and often, the feet get tired. Everything is more than what you have, more than what you know, and people of privilege say things like, “you lack creativity” and “you need to explore your options”. They don’t know that one of my only memories of my parents before their divorce is of my mom sitting in a chair and my dad coming behind her and hitting her in the head with a baseball bat. They don’t know that my mother couldn’t afford daycare or babysitters after that, and left my sisters and I home alone to fend for ourselves for days at a time sometimes. They don’t know that my grandma took us in but didn’t make enough money to keep the lights, heat, and water on all the time. They don’t know that my homework was late because I was still trying to understand what the words in the textbook meant and that no one at home could help me.
What are my options and where does creativity come from when childhood was trying to figure out how to stay alive? Creativity is something that happens out of overflow not deficit. I wasn’t fantasizing about my dream wedding or what I wanted to be when I grew up…I was sleeping with knives under my pillow and praying for ways to protect myself and my baby sisters from the men my mother turned to in times of desperation.
The determined spirit is capable of much. Through late night, self-taught study sessions and many moments of bended knee prayers, I clawed my way through honors courses; worked throughout junior high and high school to help my grandma with expenses; served in various student leadership positions; logged countless hours of community service; competed in sports; and graduated with a 4.065 GPA. Going to college, and self-discovery, became more about setting the bar high enough to give my sisters something to shoot for while simultaneously trying to give voice to the irreconcilable differences of my soul.
I wasn’t some kid from the projects riding on a sports scholarship or the troubled teen who turned their life around. I was the seeker saved by grace determined to prove that “failure to thrive” was not a life sentence. Part of me will always feel like the housebroken, mangy-haired, wild eyed mutt clamoring outside the restaurant doors after hours in a dark alley riffling through the trash and left overs of forgotten about patrons. Survival will always be at the core of my existence. I will never forget the beatings I endured at the hands of my mother for reminding her of who she never was. I will never forget dumpster diving with my cousins looking for food. I will never forget what I had to do to get the expensive graphing calculator that was required for math class. I will never forget the hours spent dreaming and praying for another way…and another day.
I will always remember the teachers and professors and pastors and elders who told me that I could do and be better than the life I knew. I will always remember the kids who didn’t make fun of my dirty clothes and messy hair. I will always remember the prayers my grandmother said over me as the nightmares of my past haunted me awake. I will always remember the Minority Encouragement Program adviser who told me what I had to do to go to college and made me believe that it was possible. I will always remember the staff at Kinkos who let me sit for hours and didn’t charge me a fee for typing and printing my term papers for school. I will always remember the still, small Voice inside of me that tells me to press on and see what the end will bring.
Each day, I get further…