My childhood and adolescence was filled with disappointment, shame, and ridicule. The emotional pain superseded the physical pain and abuse. Domestic violence in the home was abound. To hide the pain and fear, I would sit and dream….dream of having a loving family…dream of becoming a successful woman in business…dreamed of going to college….dreaming always of a better life. Although, my family had little money, I didn’t let it get me down. I taught myself how to sew and to type at an early age. I was always seeking to improve my abilities. My brothers and I were so fortunate to have a great circle of extended family members and friends who embraced us with kindness.
School became my place of refuge. It was in school that I could escape into another world. I was so determined to do my best at all times. My teachers became the inspiration role models that I needed. I proudly wore the title of teacher’s pet. It was in school that I sought the love and approval that I had bottled up in my heart. I was a student who worked hard, compensated, and pushed myself to overcome academic obstacles so that I could come out shining. Report cards were my medals of honor.
However, the solace I found in school was constantly diminished by the fear that existed behind the doors of my home. As I entered into adolescence, I leaned on my friends for guidance in the area of teenage sex and pregnancy. I was naïve in thinking that the young man I was fond of cared about the consequences of unprotected sex as much as I did. My self-esteem and self-worth was so low that it didn’t matter that he was also seeing other girls while seeing me. As a result, I became pregnant, soon after the start of my junior year of high school. In the late 1970’s, teenage pregnancies were shunned upon by the public school system. Young mothers either dropped out of school or in efforts to remain in school, covered up their pregnancies. On top of it, the father of my unborn child’s parents were adamant that I have an abortion stating that without it their son nor I would have a successful future. They were not taking into consideration that I was three months pregnant by the time they found out. It was the most notable time in my life in which my mother put her foot down and absolutely opposed it. She expressed that she would do whatever she needed to help me complete school. I proceeded to go into a world of depression. My mother encouraged me to keep my head held high. However, completing that task was beyond difficult. During my private times, I remember crying that now my dreams of ever having a bright future were crushed. My hope was gone.
Having heard of a place called Florence Crittenton (Toledo, OH) which was designed specifically for teenage unwed mothers to continue their education, I transferred there in the early spring of my junior year. I still recall sitting outside the director’s office, the door opening and seeing my mother wiping tears from her eyes as the director came to me and stated that I had been admitted to attend school and would be living there also as a resident. Although there were a large number of teenage girls attending the school, there were only two other local girls living in residence as the other six beds were of girls from other surrounding cities and/or states.
It was at Florence Crittenton that my self-esteem began to flourish. The wounds of defeat and discouragement were starting to heal. I started to lift my head again. I enjoyed going to class and learning new things, particularly child birth and prenatal care. Florence Crittenton also provided a daycare for the mothers to continue their schooling so that they didn’t have that worry, when the baby was born. I still remember spending time talking with the director who also taught me how to knit an afghan (of which I still have to this day). Although I didn’t know just how exactly I was going to make life better for myself and my unborn child. I truly believed that I could make it somehow and knew that it had to begin with me! Four months later, I gave birth to a healthy and beautiful daughter. I left the hospital with a sense of renewal. I was stronger and set on becoming the adult I knew I could be. Throughout the years, I always believed that there were better possibilities available for me and my daughter! I came to realize that the scars of my past had continuously caused me to sabotage any intimate relationship that came my way. However, it wasn’t until I began to forgive that I was able to unleash the pinned up anger that I had kept concealed for so many years and find peace and true love.
Although my journey continues to be one that experiences a few detours and bumps in the road, I know without a doubt that my life has been divinely guided through Grace. My dark past prepared me for my life’s work. I do have a purpose! I now have a loving family of my own. I am a community servant and educational leader who is passionate about the addressing issues surrounding our most vulnerable girls. Today, following eleven years as a public school administrator, I am the Managing Director of the Family Impact Institute at Purdue University’s Center for Families.
I am forever grateful to Florence Crittenton for lifting me back up from a lost and broken spirit!
For it is was there that my belief in self began to soar!