I remember the struggles of my childhood like it was yesterday. Growing up in public assisted housing, interacting with the neighborhood drug dealers and the violence often associated with blighted urban areas clouded my view of myself and my place in the world. However, there was always one person in my formative years that promised me a better life if I did not let my environment consume me and put in the effort to change my existence. This person of inspiration during my formative years was my mother, and on this Mother's Day I would like to acknowledge her for the sacrifices and perseverance that she demonstrated for my siblings and I so that we could escape the cycle of poverty that engulfed our family. There is no doubt in my mind that her experiences were instrumental in showing us the way to a better life.Humble Beginnings
My mother was born in the countryside of Jamaica (roughly 25 minutes outside of Ocho
Rios). She was born to poor parents, which was very common years ago and still is, because of Jamaica's historically weak economy. It is a common cliche to hear the stories of our parent's lives being tough as children, but I can verify my mother's stories because I see remnants of her stories in the lives of many of the children of Jamaica today. So, needless to say, my mother's childhood in Jamaica was not an easy one. Nevertheless, she persevered against tremendous odds.
My mother was always a hard worker, cleaning the house that she shared with her grandmother, all the while managing to get good grades at school. Unfortunately, there came a time when school ended for my mother, not because she dropped out, but because she could not afford to go any further. Throughout my youth, my mother would tell me the story where one of her teachers gave her the money to take her school boards. However, even though she passed, she was unable to continue her education because of the cost.A Lonely Immigrant
Like many who can no longer afford to continue their education, my mother went out into the workforce and began to live her life the best way she could. However, the problem was that the way she was living was not good enough for her, as she saw promise of a better life in this foreign land called America. Therefore, she set out to do what was necessary to get there, and get there she did. However, leaving everyone behind that she knew in order to come to America was very rough for her. I remember her telling me that she began her journey in America as a housekeeper for a Boston family. She would speak of how lonely and sad she felt. Lucky for me, these feelings did not stop her from continuing to push for a better life.
After her stint in Boston my mother settled in New York City, where she worked odd jobs (just enough to make ends meet). In her early days in NYC, she lived in what some would consider a boarding house. During this period is when I came into existence, then my brother, and finally my sister. The problem with this rapidly expanding family was that my mother could not afford to take care of all of us with what she was making and our father really didn't provide any financial support. So, she had to make the difficult decision to keep me (the oldest) with her, and send my siblings back to Jamaica to live with family until she got into a better financial situation. Now, I know that some of you may be asking the question-Why have us if she could not afford us? Well, the simple answer is that my mother waited until she was 35 to have me, with my brother following two years later, and my sister two years after him. She always wanted to be a mother, and had waited long enough for the "right conditions." However, the "right conditions" never came. My mother never spoke of what it felt like to leave her children behind in Jamaica and I never asked her, but I know that it wasn't easy, as it wouldn't be for most mothers.Progress Made, But With New Struggles
As my mother gained more stable employment, we moved out of the boarding house to an apartment building in Brooklyn, New York. It was a nice apartment in a questionable neighborhood, but it was what she could afford. We lived there for a couple of years until our apartment started to get broken into. Our apartment was ransacked twice. I remember vividly, my mother crying out as we were putting the place back together each time. Eventually, my mother got some good news, as she was approved for section-8 housing (a NY state-funded housing assistance program). This program subsidized my mother's rent, and made it possible for her to reclaim my siblings from Jamaica after a five-year separation.
While the new apartment and the reuniting of the family brought about excitement for all of us, our new environment had darker issues that we would soon have to face. You see, during the late 80s-early 90s section-8 areas tended to have a significant amount of poor single women with children, often leading to a poverty stricken mindset. However, my mother was different. She never allowed us to keep our mind locked into the everyday struggle. She challenged us to think bigger and expect more from ourselves. She demanded that we do well in school and stay out of trouble, even though trouble was around every corner. She made sure that we understood that her lack of education was a major factor in the struggles she encountered in life. But, unlike many parents who just talk a good game, my mother did something about it. Over a ten-year period, my mother earned her GED (high school equivalency), two associates, and a bachelors degree. She fulfilled her life long dream of obtaining a quality education, while demonstrating to us the benefit of hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance. My mother's leadership contributed to all three of her children getting graduate degrees, good jobs, and owning our own homes before the age of 30.
Mom, I just want to say thank you and let you know that I acknowledge you for who you have been for us and what you have accomplished in your life. Happy Mother's Day!
Have you acknowledged what your mother has done for you? If not, today is a great day to start.
Labels: Commentary, Personal Leadership