“I was homeless with my daughters and lived in shelters in New York and Mobile. My father had prostate cancer. I wanted my daughters, Ikea and Hania, to know their grandfather, and I didn’t want him living in New York alone. I packed our bags and we went up there. We ended up going to a homeless shelter. That wasn’t my plan for my life, but it happened. I had to regroup and protect my daughters. I stood the risk of losing them into foster care. I also had unexpected health issues, so we returned to Mobile. That created another financial crunch for us. We got into the Sybil Smith family shelter in Mobile. That shelter required that you be employed. This was a problem because of my health conditions, but they hired me as their after-school counselor. We stayed there for six months before moving into our own apartment and getting back on our feet.
I made sure my daughters knew that even though we were homeless, our lives still counted. It was a time of being humble, but being down is not the place where you have to stay. You still give back. We volunteered to help feed the homeless even though we were homeless. Had we not gone through this, I wouldn’t have known this side of society and these types of shelters existed. There were many people in the same circumstance. We continue to give back to Sybil Smith and to Dumas Wesley that runs the shelter. I don’t want my daughters to forget we were down in the trenches. But we don’t let the trenches define who we are as people. We don’t let the environment dictate our behavior. No matter where you are, you still give back. You still give of yourself. I have to give God the glory because without Him, it would be impossible.
I was always taught education and manners are your foundation. My mother was an oratorical speaker. She spoke at many churches doing interpretations of poetry. Speaking was the gift in our home and it passes down to each family member in different ways. I love to read and write poetry. My oldest daughter, Ikea, graduated from high school in New York. She’s getting her Ph.D. in comparative literature.
Hania grew up in the library. We couldn’t afford to buy VHS tapes, but there was a section of free VHS tapes in the library. There were films of Cirque du Soleil, the history of Aristotle, musicals and operas. We watched those on the weekends. We mimicked the opera singers or acted out Sweeney Todd in our house. Cirque du Soleil was full of opera. Hania took all of this in. All of that came out of her once she discovered she had a gift for singing opera.
My life has been trial and error. Some of my greatest learning moments came after getting the answer wrong. I work as a certified nursing assistant. I’m currently in EMT school to become an emergency medical technician. I am still pursuing healthcare in my more mature years in life. I find a lot of joy and excitement in helping others and just learning. I’m having fun.
I hope our story gives people hope and reminds them not to give up on themselves. Not to give up on life. Not to give up on that friend or that family member who may seem to be going stage left when they need to be going on stage right.”