Many years ago when I was a college student in my early 20’s, I was walking through campus on a day much like the one we are having today. It was spring and I was heading home from class. From a distance, I saw one of my professors walking through campus enjoying the lunch hour with his spouse. I noticed right away, they were so happy together. I realized, that somehow, that picture of true joy and peace had become foreign to me. And it was also the moment I knew that something in my life had to change.
A few years before that day, when I was 18 years old, I got involved with the wrong person and didn’t know how to get out. I was abused in every way imaginable for 6 years; abused or raped, almost every day during those years. And so many times I’ve lost count. I became so accustomed to pain, emotionally and physically. I prayed so hard, countless nights, and usually for almost 3 hours straight. Prayer was the ONLY thing that kept me alive and gave me strength to live another day.
I knew it was a matter of time before he would kill me. Part of me wanted to die, and several times, I almost did. And in every instance, at the very last second, before I was about to give up, God said to me, if you die, it will also kill your mother. She would die shortly after you, through devastation and a broken heart. That one single thought kept me alive. Nothing else kept me from giving up but that. In short, I became determined to get out. If not for myself, but for the one who I loved most. Somehow I woke with the strength of 10,000 women, I fought back, won, and I got out.
But of course, that was not the end of life’s challenges. Several years later, I was laid off due to a corporate strategic alliance, and at the same time, was going through a divorce. I went through a traumatic experience of losing my home due to the divorce and financial hardships. I didn’t know where I was going to live. I had no family in Michigan, or anywhere nearby, and didn’t want to be a burden to my friends. I kept the struggles to myself and made due, with what I had. It was my situation, and I was going to get myself through it.
I purchased a very modest foreclosed home for $12,000, in a not so great neighborhood. The house needed work, but it was better than being homeless. Shortly after I moved in, it was broken into. I was robbed of about $5000-$6000 worth of possessions and had damages. Unfortunately, I did not have home owners insurance at the time, because the insurance company wouldn’t approve the home until I replaced the roof, which I didn’t have money for.
There were times when I had to choose between spending money on gas for the car, or food. I chose gas, and drove to the Women’s Center where I was able to get free canned food from their pantry, and attend counseling sessions at a very low cost.
There were so many challenges I haven’t spoken of yet, but I want to give you a glimpse of just a few, because that was but a fraction of what I was carrying, when I first walked into The Women’s Center of Southeast Michigan. Before the Women’s Center, I never had the opportunity to express any of this, nor receive counseling, share what has happened to me, or feel like I could talk to anyone. I’m so grateful, for the counselors, the many staff and volunteers who’ve blessed me with their time, talent, and compassion.
Today, I’m a graduate of 4 college degrees, holding 4 professional roles. I’m a certified Business Counselor with the SBDC, launching start-ups and building businesses throughout Michigan; a part-time Professor of Business at Washtenaw Community College, Consultant at the University of Michigan WDI in Entrepreneurship Coaching, and Founder of A2 LEAP, offering executive development. Despite my circumstances, I am determined to be unstoppable and now, I know, I don’t have to do it alone.
My mission is best described by a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Supreme Court Justice in the late 1800s who said, “The greatest tragedy in America is not the great waste of natural resources although that is tragic. The greatest tragedy is the waste of human resources where the average man goes to his grave with his music still in him.” My music is to create the greatest impact I possibly can, and to equip others to live their vision, and ignite the fervor in you to live YOUR music despite setbacks and tribulations, and to believe in yourself. Because transformation begins when you know your worth.
In closing, I want to tell you about my Jar of Happiness. This jar was a gift given to me on the last session with my counselor at the Women’s Center years ago. She wrote phrases on slips of paper and told me to open this jar whenever I needed a reminder. One of these says, “Resilient. When I think of you this is the word that comes to mind. You have come far and will continue to go far. Never forget how strong you are.”
It’s amazing, how words or a simple gift from the heart, will impact your life for years to come, and even a lifetime. This jar of happiness, is still displayed in my home today. The Women’s Center of Southeast Michigan is an incredible resource and support system. My story is not necessarily a unique one. Many women who have walked through the doors of the Women’s Center has endured what I have, if not more. The staff, volunteers, supporters, and all of you here are heroes.
Years ago, I told myself I would find a way to repay what the Women’s Center has done for me, and I am honored to be able to speak here today and look forward to the opportunity to do more. Shakespeare said, “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you
have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.” They were not only a resource, but a much needed friend and incredible support system. I consider The Women’s Center of SEMI, my friends for life.