Tuesday, November 01, 2005
You Couldn't Walk in My Shoes to Save Your Life: Another Personal Story
My mother was raised in the country by her great grandparents. She was an only child. My father was in ‘town’ and was reared in a two-family home with his father and mother. My father’s father was a barber and he sold moonshine. He had 14 children and he didn’t own any land. What he was doing was considered illegal, but he had to survive, so he took risks. He had eight or nine boys, the rest are girls. My father was fortunate to go all the way through college. He went to the military, and went back to school to get his PhD. He started investing his money in real estate. When I was born, my father was married to his current wife who was not my mother. I am the product of an illegitimate relationship. My father and mother were high school sweethearts. My mother wouldn’t marry him because she said he was a ‘player,’ but they continued their relationship. I didn’t know my father growing up.
People would say to me, “get out of here looking like Patterson.” I would always ask about him, but all I ever heard were those comments. When I got older, I started calling everyone in town with the last name Patterson. My father never responded to me. His mother, my grandmother, used to send me $10. Ten dollars is a lot when you got nothin’. When my father’s wife got wind of my relationship with my paternal grandmother, our relationship took a different turn. My grandmother couldn’t see me anymore.
I finally met my father when I was 12. His wife’s reaction to me was that I wasn’t his child because “you are light skinned and he is dark skinned.” She didn’t know who she was talking to because then I was mean. I went into the kitchen to pick up the butcher knife, because I believed in killing. My mother stopped me. My father’s response to me was “when you get older, I’ll explain it to you.” When I was older, I went to him. He didn’t explain. You never know what people have come through to get where they’re at.
When you feel as though you are not wanted by someone who should love you, you feel like why would anyone else believe in me or want me? I heard my mother once say that she didn’t love me. That creates a whole mess. Since 2nd or 3rd grade, I ran away from home every year, and my mother never came to get me. But the family I ran to would finally come to her. I was miserable. I never got a spanking, but emotionally, the lack of love - just feeling like you were not wanted... Always people telling you to “get outta hear, don’ nobody want you here. I was a bad kid at home. I was a liar and I was a thief. I couldn’t disagree with you. My one question is what did you do to encourage the child? You can say you did, but what did you do to love that child? I was dealing with some crazy stuff. I got pregnant in high school.
I was supposed to have 6 children and be in jail, but the scripture says let go and let God. I don’t know anybody of my great grandfather’s children that has two master degrees. What I have been able to achieve, I’ve done by myself. My mother had my daughter when I was in college. When I went to college, no one gave me a dime. I didn’t take the SAT. I went to a business college. My mother said fine, go to college, but I’m not going to pay for you, so I took out loans in my own name. Before I got there, I never saw the college. I told my mother I didn’t know how to get there, so my mother said she would take me as far as the train station. (I couldn’t bring my daughter to school because I didn’t have anyone to take her. My mother kept her. When I went home and left, she would cry because I left her.) My mother never saw the school. When I got to the school, I didn’t have a piece of linen. I only had clothes. The campus was a 20 minute car ride from the dorms. I didn’t have a car. I started getting to school by catching rides every day. I didn’t know anything about the bus system. It was very traumatic to get back and forth to school. After going through all of that, I graduated with an associate degree. At my graduation, my daughter and mother were there with me.
The day I graduated, I got my daughter back. I knew I had to move out of the apartment. I’d never heard about saving. The day I graduated, I was walking on the highway with my daughter and had no place to go. A lady stopped, backed up and asked us where we were going. I said I didn’t know. We didn’t have nowhere to go. I’ll never forget it - she told me to get into the car and she offered me a place to stay. I didn’t stay long, but I didn’t have to be homeless that day and that night. I tried to get me a little job at a temp agency. My daughter got sick. I was a single parent and I didn’t have any help. I wanted a full-time position, and they wanted to offer it to me. The supervisor talked to a black lady employee. She discouraged him from hiring me full-time. She had seen me take off because my child was sick. They don’t have a clue of what it’s like to not have any help. They couldn’t walk my footsteps to save their God given life.
People see others on welfare and make assumptions - you don’t even know what they’ve been through. I worked at the Radisson Hotel from 7am -3pm and from 3pm – 6pm in a day care center. I’d work for free at the day care so my daughter could stay there during the day. She would be there for 12 hours - it was the only way I could do it. I got fired from the Radisson for ‘fraternizing with the guests.’ (I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to take free tickets from the guests.) When I lost the job at the Radisson, I ended up in a homeless shelter and stayed there for a couple months. (I’d just had my second child). I was trying to get some help. I went downtown to social services. The woman realized I had a degree. She invited my daughters and I to spend Christmas holiday with her. Her godfather said, “if you come to where I live [a different state], you’ll always have a place.” Little did I know that his family was a bunch of drug dealers. I didn’t call home and say “Oh my God mama I made a mistake.” He did help me find a place. I had been in the new state for three months. You have to be on welfare for 3 months to qualify for the ‘American works’ program. I had been on welfare for 3 months and 1 hour. My new job was as a claims agent. America works did this big write up on me. I worked and I worked. I applied for a promotion, but they wanted a bachelor degree. I said at that point, “I will never be turned down for a job because I don’t have the education.” Because the new college didn’t accept credits from the business college, I had to start all over. I was discouraged for a minute. I met Dr. Hakim and he encouraged me through the process of getting back in school. After about a semester, he took me over to the Board of Education. He introduced me to Dr. Jackson. She was the Provost at the center office of the university. She took me under her wing and started to develop me. God has really put some wonderful people in my life. There was something special that they saw in me. She was always encouraging me. Eventually, I got two masters. I didn’t get the degrees to get a better job. I didn’t want anyone to deny me an opportunity. I defeated all the people that said I was stupid.
My mom never tried to make sure I had a relationship with my father. I always made sure my daughters had a relationship with their fathers. I knew that knowing their fathers would help fill a void in their lives. This past weekend, in a workshop, they were discussing the word ‘nigger.’ The daughter that I was the most worried about said, “we are leaders and we can make changes. If I had said something like [the “n-word”], my mother would have snatched the word right out of my mouth. To hear her - good Lord. It worked. She got it. My youngest – she wrote a poem. It was something like ‘recognize that the word was used to degrade us. It was used by the slave masters. When you say “what up nigger” - you just killed your brother.’
I sometimes don’t recognize what God has asked me to do. God has put his hand in my life and I recognize that. If I was directing myself, I would probably have killed myself. Let go and let God. If it was left to other people, I would not be here. The biggest thing that ever brought me through was when Dr. Hakim stepped into my life when I went back to school for my bachelor degree. He had faith in me and talked to me about the things I could do in my life if I just made the decision to do it. Dr. Hakim gave me an opportunity. He didn’t know me. He didn’t owe me nothin’. He didn’t have to have anything to do with me at all. By the end of the first semester, I got a 1.9 GPA. It was devastating. He didn’t beat me down. He just offered options. And he let me make my own decision. He just cared enough to show me there is another way to do this. He gave me away at my wedding. He had to leave early because his wife was in a car accident, but he kept his word. That’s more than my father ever did for me. He always had a door open to me. I knew there was no one else that would do that for me. That propelled me. He is the most powerful person that I have ever known.