Women’s History Month Means Thinking Beyond the “Firsts”

So the work continues. And for all the young women in this room, all the young men, we can never be complacent. Because we have seen in recent times how quickly things can be taken away if we aren’t vigilant, if we don’t know our history, if we don’t continue the work.   –   Michelle Obama

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing the history. And, continuing the work.

I, for one, am committed to carrying this essential wisdom forward – from Black History Month through Women’s History Month to my social justice Seder on Passover and well into the foreseeable future. But, let’s think for a moment about the time we are in – March and Women’s History Month.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels to me like so much about Women’s History Month rests upon the recognition of “firsts.” The celebration of women who were the first to do something significant. The first woman to climb Mt. Everest. The first woman to cast a ballot in a U.S. election. The first woman to travel into space. The first woman to run for president. And, even, the first woman to live on earth. The focus of the month so often seems to be on the trailblazers whom history wishes us to remember for leadership and accomplishments of the highest order.

As much as I love Women’s History Month and as eager as I am to learn even more about women’s contributions to society, I want to cast off the cloak of conventionality – that well-worn clothing of “firsts” that colors so much of our celebration.

Before Junko Tabei climbed Mt. Everest, there were girls who dreamed of scaling impossible heights. Before Louisa Ann Swain cast her vote, there were young women who were demanding that their voices be heard. Before Valentina Tereshkova flew into space, there were bold adventurous women who set their sights on the stars.  Before Victoria Woodhull ran for president, there were feminist thinkers who aspired to create political change.

Knowing the history is important. And, knowing that the history is larger than all the “firsts” combined is essential. This deeper history is where, in many cases, the rubber really hits the road. We also need to remember that continuing the work – as bold and daring as the work is – even on a good day, will never be as grand or as shiny or as memorable as even one “first.” But, continuing the work – doing what needs to be done to the best of our ability – to shatter a glass ceiling or to reinstate feminine voice – and, doing it over and over again, is what sticks.

It’s what matters. It’s what ultimately makes all of the “firsts” possible. And, all of this takes courage and commitment.

At Caroline Center, we’re focused on women and work, so we get it – glass ceilings, equal pay for equal work, sexism, racism, and so many other factors that threaten to keep our graduates from flourishing in their careers. At Caroline Center, we also know that women’s potential is enormous and diverse.

That’s why this March, as we celebrate Women’s History Month, all women – especially Caroline Center trainees and graduates – must stand proudly together.

Some of us may be shattering glass ceilings; others of us may be breaking through a lifetime of stone walls. Some of us may be making history; others of us may be setting the stage of history. Some of us may achieve important “firsts;” others of us may gain long-overdue recognition for making the “firsts” possible. Some of us will be trailblazers; others of us will be unstoppable forces of nature. Some of us will be blazing comets in the night sky; others of us will be the persistent and powerful light of a billion stars watching, guarding, and guiding on the horizon.

 

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Seeing Strength in Numbers

 

shamsi

How will you spend your courage,/Her life asks my life.

No courage spent of/Bloodshot/gunshot/taproot/eye –

How will you make your way?

Then, respond to the day/some other way than blind

from The World Made and Unmade by Jane Mead

Woman to woman. Woman to world. How will we spend our courage? How will we make our way? How will we respond to the day some other way than blind?

After the presidential inauguration, I find these words from Jane Mead’s elegiac collection of poems, which she wrote for her dying mother, taking up an unlikely yet entirely welcome residence in my mind and heart. In poetry this perfect, I do not wish to dilute eloquence and true meaning. And in poetry this perfect, I accept that much meaning is entirely possible. That the literal can become transcendent. That the particular can meet a kindred universal soul. So, when I read Jane Mead’s poem, I’m thinking about the time we movingforwardare in. A time when courage, more than cash, is our most powerful currency. A time when moving forward, not backward, is our only true choice. A time when each and every day, with eyes wide open, is the way we must respond.

One woman to another, one generation to the next, one question for all – How will you spend your courage? I mean the kind of courage that can only truly be understood woman women-are-perfectto woman. I mean the kind of courage that finds a collective voice as millions of women march in Washington, DC, and around the world. Women, especially women of color, know this kind of courage well, and it is not new.

More than a century ago, Mother Caroline Friess, SSND, the North American foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, emboldened young women to keep moving forward, every day, with eyes wide open. And, she empowered women to keep their eyes on a very worthy prize. To pursue an education for themselves and to teach others for whom access to education had been denied. In doing this, with great courage and heart, she changed the world. With these nine words, “Now take new courage, and make it your own,” she started a movement, formed a congregation, and inspired a powerful sisterhood that is thriving today at Caroline Center.

Five years ago, when I came to Caroline Center, I probably knew more about the power of privilege than the power of courage. Day to day, week by week, the experiences of my what-it-takessisters at Caroline Center changed me. While every woman’s life experiences and life circumstances are different and unique, the challenges we face are felt by all of us; and, the hope that we have in the struggle to overcome our challenges belongs to each of us.

How will you spend your courage? While numbers and statistics can never, ever tell the whole story, the trainees who are enrolled at this mind-bending time in our country’s history, most assuredly, will graduate both rich in courage and generous and smart in how they spend it. They will have good work. Meaningful work. They will have new careers. Opportunities for advancement. Better lives. But, their newfound courage will be their greatest legacy; the one, sure sign of the transcendent power of sisterhood.

Here’s what the numbers say about where our current trainees are upon enrolling at

Caroline Center this month:

  • 100% are experiencing poverty and underemployment
  • 57% are working at least one job while attending the program full-time
  • 46% cannot afford basic public transportation
  • 36% require food assistance; more are food insecure
  • 25% need supplemental support for child care expenses
  • 23% are experiencing utilities cut-offs; more are at risk for cut-offs
  • 16% have eviction notices; more are experiencing housing insecurity
  • 68% are working one-on-one with our financial counselor
  • 70% are receiving individual counseling

pharmtech-at-walgreensIn 15 weeks, we know that because Caroline Center is here for them, these women’s lives will be markedly different – more independent, more confident, more fulfilled, more hopeful. And, if it is even possible, more courageous. We know that the quality-of-life indicators that point to the highest levels of stress in their lives will begin to improve. And, we know that one number will shine brighter than the rest: 100% of Caroline Center graduates will experience meaningful employment with excellent additional opportunities for career and academic advancement.

Naoki Higashida’s name may not be familiar to you, but the book he wrote in Japanese when he was 13 years old, using a simple letter board to communicate because he has severe autism, has this profound piece of wisdom: “Everybody has a heart that can be touched by something.” This is not an “alternative fact.” It’s just the plain truth. As women, we need to believe that “something” is courage. We want the world to see that “something” is courage. Because courage is what we’re bringing. It’s the way we will make our way. It’s the way we will respond to the day, some other way than blind.

SILHOUETTE WOMEN

Notes:

Naoki Higashida’s book, The Reason I Jump, was first published in 2007 in Japan by Escor Publishers Ltd. In 2013, Random House published the book in English as translated by David Mitchell and KA Yoshida.

Jane Mead’s poem, “How will you spend your courage,” is in her book The World Made and Unmade, which was published by Alice James Books in August 2016. The World Made and Unmade is Jane Mead’s fifth collection of poems.

Images:

“She The People” by artist Shamsia Hassani (pictured), the first female graffiti artist in Afghanistan, photo by citylab.com

“Women Are Perfect,” photo by  Sait Serkan Gurbuz

Cover image from What It Takes magazine, photo by Ryan Stevenson, RaRah Photo

Caroline Center pharmacy technician, photo by Howard Korn, Howard Korn Photography

 

 

 

 

Posted in and Make It Your Own, Caroline Center, Food Insecurity, Housing Insecurity, Howard Korn Photography, Jane Mead, Naoki Higashida, Poverty, Presidential Inauguration, RaRah Photo, School Sisters of Notre Dame, Shamsia Hassani, SSND, The Reason I Jump, The World Made and Unmade, Uncategorized, Unemployment, What it takes, Women Are Perfect, Women's March | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Just A Truck

Oftentimes, it’s the little things.  And, sometimes, it is just the matter of a truck.

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Frequently, I receive phone calls from friends of Caroline Center who have furniture they are replacing and they ask me if there is a trainee or graduate who might be able to use what they don’t need anymore. The issue is never if we have a trainee or graduate who is in need; it is almost always a question of how we can get the items to her.

What I’m talking about played out a few weeks ago when a good friend and her family were in the process of emptying out their deceased mother’s home. They had a lot of good furniture. There were even people who could help move the pieces, wishing to honor the memory of their mother who had so lovingly furnished their childhood home.

All we needed was a truck.

Linda (not her real name), the recipient of the donation, graduated from Caroline Center five years ago and has been working since that time as a CNA/GNA in a long-term care fargo-empty-bedfacility in the city. Linda and her three children had recently moved into a three-bedroom rental, and she shared with me that the only furniture she had was a single bed that her young son was sleeping on.

To the rescue: Sr. Betty Koehn, SSND, who oversees trucks and such things at our sisters’ office and residence on N. Charles Street, was happy to help. She had a truck ready for us on Saturday morning. In short order, we had the truck loaded with several donated beds, a sofa, and other odds and ends, such as lamps and dishes. Then, we were off to Linda’s in the truck, which was closely followed by our two-car caravan.

breakfast-counter-stoolsWhen we arrived at Linda’s house, all of us were taken aback at just how little there was inside. Although Linda and her family had been living in their house for a full month – even though Linda has had a steady full-time professional position as a CNA/GNA for five years – there was, quite literally, only a single bed and two kitchen counter chairs in the entire house.

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A thin bedspread on the floor of one of the bedrooms marked the place where Linda and her two daughters were sleeping. There was no TV, but Linda assured me that was okay because she and her children were able to watch movies together on her phone at night. There were no lamps, but the only tiny complaint came from Linda’s daughter who said it was hard for her to reach the pull chain on the overhead light. light-and-pull-string

Just goes to show that after you pay your security deposit, your first month’s rent, the charges to turn the utilities on, put a little food on the table, and pay for renter’s insurance, if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford that, you can eat up an entire paycheck – even a professional healthcare worker’s paycheck – pretty quickly.

That Saturday, it only took a truck to begin to change Linda’s reality; but hers was not the only reality that would be changed.

My friend’s family members who helped deliver the furniture – good people and long-time volunteers in the community who were certainly not new to grappling with and, in their own ways, helping to address issues of poverty, came away having experienced a new reality, too. After seeing how little there was in Linda’s home, our immediate reaction was to go back to my friend’s mother’s house, look again at what items remained, gather them up, and make a second trip to Linda’s.

We all had new energy for a task that had before been burdened with the sadness of a mother’s passing. The sense of loss that we felt at the REACH FOR THE MOONending of a loved one’s life was being healed by renewed purpose and meaning. Was this what Mother Caroline, our foundress, had meant when she said, “Now, take new courage and make it your own?” As we worked through the day sorting out my friend’s mother’s belongings, “Linda could use this” became our mantra. Throughout the afternoon and evening, the life-changing work at hand – made possible with just a truck – filled our conversations and occupied our thoughts and reflections.

At the end of the day, it would, once more, be just a truck that would change Linda’s reality yet another time.

After a long day of moving, when we returned the truck to Sr. Betty at the province and told her about our experience, Sr. Betty asked if we thought Linda could use an additional loveseat. We asked Linda, and she said “yes.” Yes LetterSo, that week, we borrowed the truck again and made another visit to Linda’s house.

And, so it goes.

A popular automotive industry commercial touts the strength of its trucks in an ad campaign that claims, “Real people, not actors.”  While we weren’t looking to replicate a “reality” TV show that weekend – there are certainly enough reality shows to go around – we will never again underestimate the power of a truck or of any small act of kindness to positively change the lives of all involved – both giver and receiver.

New CC Logo

“Just a Truck” was written by our Executive Director Patricia McLaughlin, SSND.

 

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The Company We Keep

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It’s good to be in the company of strong women. It’s especially good these days, when there are so many unsubtle reminders that misogyny is all too alive and well. We need an antidote for this poison; and, maybe it begins with the company we keep.

That’s why I wish every woman could start her day at Caroline Center. She would feel how real and see how empowering it is to be part of one of the hardest working, women-driven communities in the city. She would see what I see each day. That the women who come to Caroline Center for career training, most of them not yet 30 and still very much on the road to becoming the women they were meant to be, can quite literally take you to school on the subject of “strong.”woman-looking-in-the-mirror

In the company of Caroline Center strong women, I see my own strengths differently. I’m not afraid to show my authentic self. The steely parts and supple parts of myself that I never knew existed, that no mirror could ever reveal.

At Caroline Center, I have rarely, if ever, met a woman who was not strong; who did not possess, in good measure, many highly valued qualities of character. Frankly, most Caroline Center trainees are off the charts in this regard. Honest, responsible, respectful, and conscientious – yes. But, I’m also talking about the qualities that chisel the word “strong” into bas relief. They are there, too – qualities like grit, perseverance, self-discipline, optimism, courage, and kindness.

women-trees

 

Somewhere above the clamor of our current politics,

I know there are communities of strong women

just like the community at Caroline Center.

 

Women who embrace change through education and choose to listen to their own inner voices instead of the voices of their critics and naysayers.

Women who know that sometimes you just need to claim what’s yours, reserve what you deserve, even though others may say you’re impatient or selfish.

Women who choose to be exactly who they are, to do what they do, and to like what they like without regard to others who may judge them for it.

Women who recognize that there’s no need to apologize for having their own voice when others just want them to be quiet.

Women who love themselves – body and soul – even in the face of those who will try to shame them into invisibility.

BLUE HEART

Being in the company of strong women at Caroline Center, especially during this election season, is making me really self-conscious. And, I’m happy about it. Caroline Center’s strong women are making me more self-conscious by being more self-aware, more confident, more emboldened – basically, more ready.

But, ready for what?

Ready, as the women of Caroline Center are, to have the confidence and courage to be fully themselves – and, to be the very best version of themselves – no matter what.

 

LOGO

 

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A Book, Not A Gun

mask

So, I pen this article for everyone getting dressed for work, who are putting on their masks. For every student who is not only carrying the textbooks to improve their minds, but who also bear the weight of this reality on their backs. For everyone who has wept this morning because they are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

 For men and women whose emotions are boiling over because the pressure of frustration has them swinging wildly at the phantoms of racism and brutality which haunt them every news cycle.

from “Another Day Wearing the Mask,” by Big Baba Rob, theblackgeeks.com

As I write this early morning post, Caroline Center trainees are getting dressed for work, gathering up their textbooks, and waiting for the bus. More than a few are blotting away the tears. And, many more than we want to admit are putting on their masks. Because that’s what society expects. That’s what others need. It’s just another day. It’s part of the routine.

Four hundred and fifty miles away – but feels more like it’s right down the end of the block – Keith Lamont Scott waits for the bus that will bring his son home from school. It’s just another day. It’s part of the routine. But he never sees his son. Because the police see him first. Because? I know deep inside that he died wearing his mask. Because.

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 01: Children riding home from school on a school bus watch as Baltimore residents celebrate at the corner of West North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue after Baltimore authorities released a report on the death of Freddie Gray on May 1, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City State's Attorney, ruled the death of Freddie Gray a homicide and that criminal charges will be filed. Gray, 25, was arrested for possessing a switch blade knife on April 12 outside the Gilmor Houses housing project on Baltimore's west side. According to his attorney, Gray died a week later in the hospital from a severe spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Education is something we all need.

Not because it makes us smarter. Because it makes us change.

young-men-reading

Whether you call it a renaissance or a revolution, maybe Baltimore is about to start one. About to become The City That Reads, Redux. About to read, write, speak, and slam its way onto the map of shared humanity. About to become a place where Black Lives Matter is the new “just another day in Black America.” Is the new just another day in all America.

Speaking of America. What would happen if citizens lost their right to carry?

Does it keep you up at night?

I mean books, not guns.

What did happen? What is happening?

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Today, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Tomorrow, where?

I don’t want to talk about tomorrow, right now. It’s pretty hard to talk at all.

Recently, City Paper writer Tariq Touré caught up with author and east Baltimore neighbor D. Watkins in the wee hours of the morning at The Bun Shop. He had a few words to say about tomorrow, and about books and reading – “Bro, from first through third grade the average kid is learning to read. From then on out they’re reading to learn. If these black kids don’t learn how to read, they’ll never understand the game being played out here. It’s like 10 things out here waiting to kill us. Reading prepares you for the first three.”
math-quote-by-einsteinOkay. I hear you, D. So, let’s do the math. If you add this up, we might be getting somewhere. Team Baltimore – Winner of the National Poetry Slam + Sadiq Ali + MK Asante + Nakia Brown + Ta-Nehisi Coates + Cija Jefferson + Bilphena Yahwon + + + .   .   .  all masters of the spoken and written word that are sky-rocketing Baltimore onto the literary landscape and, we hope, anchoring our city firmly and squarely on the map of shared humanity.

When women come to Caroline Center to learn and prepare for new careers as certified nursing assistants and pharmacy technicians, we share with them our hope that this place will be for them “a place of delight and rest.”

The work here is challenging, but pleasantly so. You can leave your mask at the door. Find healing. Create a new reality for yourself. Delight and rest.

Not long ago, I listened to what Michelle Campbell, CNA/GNA, had to say to her classmates at graduation. That day, I knew for a fact her vision was better than 20/20. That she could see the mask and under the mask at the same time.jiden

“What does a Caroline Center woman look like? I say, ‘strong.’ She cultivates her own history, and she shows her authentic self. She understands and appreciates her own strength; and, she uses her strength to achieve her own success.”

 

With a deeper understanding of all who wear their masks and great respect for all who have died doing so, I offer these words from Big Baba Rob as our new anthem. All rise.

These dark days will not break us. Our spirits may bend as we struggle with another death in our community, but our spirits will never be broken. They can never be broken. Be strong people, we will endure. We shall overcome.

 

Quoted material in this month’s post should be credited to: “Another Day Wearing the Mask,” by Big Baba Rob, bigbabarob@theblackgeeks.com; “Summer of the Slam: How two fearless Baltimore poetry slam teams took over the nation,” by Fire Angelou, City Paper (July 6, 2016); “Baltimore, The City That Reads Again: Black writers in Baltimore look to connect with local kids like never before,” by Tariq Toure, City Paper (July 6, 2016)

 

Posted in #Black Lives Matter, Big Baba Rob, City Paper, Fire Angelou, Keith Lamont Scott, National Poetry Slam, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Slam Poetry, Tariq Toure, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fighting Against the Fade

the-cook-up-d-watkinsI’m not sure if D. WatkinsThe Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir was on anyone else’s wish list for Mother’s Day this year, but it was on mine.

Having just been published and released in early May, this book was what I had been hoping for. Yes, to my mind, The Cook Up for Mother’s Day was right up there with the much-anticipated delicious brunch, lovely cards, and thoughtful phone calls from my family. “Look, mom, it’s signed,” my son said. “It is, indeed. Thank you.” A bold signature, I observed – one I hoped would not soon fade. I admired the cover, front and back, and placed the book snugly next to me on the living room sofa in my row house that sits just shy of three miles from the East Baltimore neighborhood where D. Watkins grew up and where I work at Caroline Centermaxresdefault smaller

This July at Artscape, my son caught up with D. Watkins at the Taharka ice cream truck. “I’ve got your book,” he said. “What’d you think of it?” Mr. Watkins asked. “Well, actually, my mother has your book. We gave it to her for Mother’s Day, so I’m waiting for her to read it first.”

“It’s been out awhile. Time is short. What’s she waiting for?” Mr. Watkins asked smiling.

Waiting for is right. Time is short, for real. On any given day in Baltimore, you don’t need to go far from your doorstep to see this truth. Time here can be painfully and breathtakingly short. If you live in the city, you’re going to know somebody, whether you realize it or not, who’s marking time’s brevity, whose life is already in some degree of “fade.”

bcp-local-street-artist-nether-creates-work-on-bus-stop-where-video-captured-police-beating-citizen-as-a-20141029Watkins talks about it this way – In Baltimore, “people are gained, trusted, and loved as quick as they fade.” One day you’re moving about in full living color; next day, you’re at some irrevocable percentage of “fade;” standing on the bus stop, losing the war with time, and receding against your will to a place from which it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to return.

“Fade” is for real.

 

Jason Parham, in his New York Times review of The Cook Up, observes “When you are black in America, fighting against the ‘fade’ – that is to say – battling against erasure – sometimes means doing things you would not otherwise do.”

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Was Freddie Gray fighting against the fade? Was Darius Kelly, the recent Poly graduate who met his end in an empty lot on N. Caroline Street, fighting against the fade? Was Lor Scoota fighting against the fade? Was D. Watkins, when he “took up the mantel of his [deceased] brother’s crack empire” on the East Baltimore streets he knew only too well, fighting against the fade? Today, is D. fighting against the fade still in his life as a writer, author, and educator?

It’s complicated – the choices we make, the things we do – to keep from being erased, to resist invisibility, to just stay in the world long enough to defy this street-bound shortness of time.

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On July 29, Caroline Center will graduate its sixty-fourth class of career trainees – women who are newly educated and professionally trained to enter careers as certified nursing assistants and pharmacy technicians. We want them all to be strong enough, smart enough, and, let’s be honest, fortunate enough to win in the fight against “fade.”

Women, blackwomenmatter-720particularly women of color, have been battling invisibility and erasure for centuries. Over-incarceration, sex-trafficking, and violence take women’s souls and lives every day. It’s complicated. But, our hope is that the single, courageous choice a woman makes to come to Caroline Center may be one powerful step in the direction of redeeming time – of her successful resistance to invisibility and erasure.

tumblr_nqcmfrbCRx1s8wl38o1_500When you read The Cook Up, listen up to D. Watkins. Pay attention. Because he’s going to tell you the truth. It’s a truth that every Caroline Center graduate knows – that reinvention is also for real. That it’s not, as the old saying goes, “how you begin,” but rather “how you finish” that matters.

For everyone in Baltimore who knows or is a witness to these struggles, our hope is that you “finish well” and that the unique brilliance you bring to the city and to the world not soon fade.

Quotations in this post are from D. Watkins’ The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir, May 2016, Grand Central Publishing, New York & Boston and The New York Times, Book Review section, “The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir by D. Watkins,” written by Jason Parham, published May 13, 2016. Mr. Watkins use of the word “fade” and Mr. Parham’s observations on the important use of the word as well as his expression “fighting the fade” inspired this post and its title. The bus stop image is by photographer Joe Robertson and features a mural by internationally renowned Baltimore street artist Nether. The mural of Freddie Gray at North Mount and Presbury Streets in Baltimore was created by Nether in 2015. The Black Women Matter image is by photographer Rayette Turner. 

Posted in Artscape 2016, Caroline Center, D. Watkins, Darius Kelly, Freddie Gray, Jason Parham, Nether, Taharka Brothers, The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jemella Nation: My Story

QUESTION MARK

 

 

Who am I? At the age of 34 years old, I’m still trying to find that out. When I was born, I was someone’s daughter. I had brothers and a sister. So, I was someone’s big sister and little sister.

 

When I was 13 years old, I had my first child. I was no longer someone’s daughter, big sister, and little sister. Now, I was someone’s mother. Not just a mother, but a provider, caretaker, teacher, and somewhat a big sister to my own child.

Mother-Tag

I still attended school. But, I wasn’t an 8th grade student. I was the 13-year-old classmate with a newborn baby. I did not want to be that. I just wanted to be a regular kid, like everyone else. So, I acted out like everyone else. I was the bad, popular, cool, good grades girl everyone wanted to be around.

After school, I would pick up the baby from daycare. I was still a young black mother.

Who am I? At the age of 16 years old, I had my second child. No sweet 16 for me. It was two sweet babies and smelly diapers. I’m not going to lie. Times was hard and rough. It was way too late to be a regular kid. I completely skipped past being a teenager.

KFC2Who am I? I can’t even think about all that. All I know is I need a job. So, I started working at KFC part-time at 16. I really needed the money. So, I worked full-time. I would pay two different babysitters, just to work. Sometimes, I would bring my children to work. I worked beyond full-time – to the point where I had enough money to pay for my first apartment, years later.

But, that job wouldn’t last that long. That was the beginning of a lot of hard times.

September 11, 2001. Who am I? That is a day nobody will ever forget – not even me. Before, I was just a single black mom of two boys. Now, I am a single black mom of two boys on welfare. It was good and bad being on welfare. But, it really helped me get a lot of opportunities, knowledge, and be completely independent.

So, I really had to start focusing on my goals. LIFE PLAN

Social Services helped me get a lot of great jobs. I worked at a daycare for three years as a teacher’s aide. I also worked for Baltimore City Department of Social Services for a year and a half. I worked in many departments – Homeless Department, Energy Assistance Department, and Food Stamp Department. But, you know how things always get in the way.

Who am I? At this time, I have four kids. My two boys are 20 and 18 years old and my two girls are 11 and 7 years old. Through all, the struggles, heartbreaks, and not having anyone there for me, I was able to get my driver’s license. I tried so many times to go back to school and get my high school diploma. This was something I wanted more than anything. So, I didn’t wait on anybody. I studied and taught myself. In 2013, I received my high school diploma.

Students Success

Who am I? In 2014, I was attending Baltimore City Community College. I loved being a college student. But, life happens. Everything happens for a reason. My sister became pregnant and learned that she had breast cancer at the same time. When she had the baby, I became his mother also. While she was getting treatment, I was taking care of him. Now, he’s back home.

It’s time for me – to find me.

Looking at my life, now. I am so amazed and blessed. I am still standing. Who am I? I am Jemella Marktina Nation. I am a strong, wonderful, smart, goal-driven, caring, and loving woman and mother. My past is who I was. Today – at this moment – is who I am.

Photo Of Jemella Nation

This month’s guest writer in The Breakroom is CNA/GNA candidate Ms. Jemella Marktina Nation. Jemella initially wrote her personal essay “Who Am I?” for a speech class assignment at Caroline Center. Jemella’s classmates were so taken by her remarks that they encouraged her to share her story with all of her fellow trainees during Halfway Hurrah – a time we set aside midway through the 15-week program – for each woman to reflect on her growth and progress and to reaffirm her resolve to achieving her personal and professional goals.

 We think “Who Am I?” deserves a larger reading audience. Jemella just says, “I like to write. I’m still learning.” We say, “Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep growing. And, keep being all that you are from this moment forward.”

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