“Don’t cry, baby; Mommy will be just fine,” were the words spoken by my mother quite often when I was growing up. My mother was a victim of domestic violence and suffered immensely for more than 15 years. As a child, I witnessed many violent episodes. I even played doctor and helped her mend black eyes or busted lips. Although I was just a young child, that expression of shame that crossed my mother’s face every time she looked at me became all too familiar. At the tender age of six, I vowed never to allow a man to abuse me. However, things didn’t go as I planned.
The cycle began to repeat itself with me. I couldn’t believe that I was going through the same things that my mother had gone through. I was a 17-year-old child with two children of her own and a terrible, hidden secret. I was being beaten by my children’s father. I kept this dirty little secret out of shame and humiliation. I didn’t want anyone to know that this was going on. I hid the bruises very well and kept my mouth shut. I somehow blamed myself for getting beaten, and I now wonder if my mother did the same. During this time, my self-esteem was at an all-time low. “No one will ever love you like I do and no man will want you anyway with two kids who aren’t his,” the man who abused me would say. These words were embedded in my mind and soul, to the point where I believed them. At times when I felt that I had the courage to leave, those words played continuously in my mind. And caused me to stay.
I became so depressed that I tried to commit suicide. I felt broken beyond repair. I know many people would think that at this point it was time to go, but not me. The seeds that had been planted about no one wanting me and my children held me hostage in a situation that I felt was inescapable. It took my jaw being broken in front of my daughter to force me to leave. The fear on my baby’s face still plays in my mind to this day. I had to protect my babies. I took my babies and never looked back. Although this was an adult situation, I was still a child myself. A lost child without any direction in this world but I was free of my abuser.
The first thing I did was to enroll in high school, located within the old Kennedy-King College, because they had a free day-care center for my children. It was hard, but I obtained my high school diploma in January 2000. While in school, I did odd jobs like bookkeeping or doing hair in order to make extra money to buy diapers and clothes for my babies. I vowed to stand strong and I did just that. On August 21, 2000, I landed my first real job. This was one of the happiest moments of my life. I was making money and didn’t have to depend on anyone else to feed me or my babies. It felt good. That same year, I met my future husband. He loved me through all my pain and helped me release the baggage that had bound up my heart for so long. He was a real-life knight in shining armor. My life was complete, or so I thought.
That was before I had a life-changing moment after hearing a sermon, “Who are you without the titles?” For the life of me, I couldn’t answer this question. I was a wife, mother, housekeeper, counselor, among other things. However, I really didn’t know who “I” truly was without the titles. I was lost once again, but I vowed to find my way.
I remember being on the bus and I could see so many people coming and going on the campus of Kennedy-King College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. I wanted to be one of those people who was going after their dreams, but fear kept me on the bus. I was afraid of failure and success simultaneously. One day, I just got off of the bus and walked to the campus. I prayed the whole way because I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that someone there would surely help me find my way.
The only thing that I had when I walked into Kennedy-King was the hope and dream of one day becoming a better me. I found that and much more. I went to school part-time my first semester because I didn’t know what to expect. I guess you can say that I wanted to test the waters because I had been out of school for over 14 years. Once I gained confidence in myself everything else was a piece of cake. I went to school full-time—all the while fulfilling my responsibilities as a wife and mother. Not to mention, I worked 12 hours a day, four days a week.
My hard work and dedication paid off because I finished at the top of my class. I became a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. I am the Kennedy-King College 2014 Valedictorian. Not only was I named valedictorian, but I was also honored by the biological science department as being one of their top science students.
I graduated on May 3, 2014 with an Associate in Arts degree. I will be attending Robert Morris University to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Allied Health Sciences. One of my dreams is to teach science at a college level. I will always remember that while I was walking across the stage to receive my diploma, the voice in my head kept chanting “YOU DID IT” repeatedly. I am a living witness that all things are possible and dreams do come true. If I can overcome the hardships that I was dealt and still succeed, anyone can.