Many of the women who enroll at Caroline Center come from similar backgrounds. Often, they are the product of either absent and indifferent parents or absent yet caring parents. The problem is absence of any kind, negligent or unavoidable, has its consequences. 23-year-old Caroline Center graduate, Tanora, is a product of the latter. The oldest of 4, Tanora was born to a single mother with limited education. This in turn limited her mother’s employment opportunities. In an effort to make ends meet, Tanora’s mother worked 2 full time jobs, leaving Tanora the adult task of raising her younger brothers and sisters and robbing her of her own childhood. In many ways, her path was set. It began with trouble at school. Middle school.
“Did that matter?” I asked.
“It didn’t help.”
“I was told I was outspoken,” Tanora conceded. As a child who was given the responsibility of helping to raise 3 other kids, one could see how Tanora might have developed a disproportionate sense of her own authority back then. However, it wasn’t her mouth that was her undoing. By 6th grade she was expelled for assault. Eventually, Tanora ended up at a school that was 100% African American. Using her own reasoning, one might assume that fact would have made things a little easier for her. Not so.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because I’m high yellow.”
“My skin tone. I’m high yellow. Not as dark as everyone else. And I’ve got blue eyes and blond hair.”
“So, I got picked on.”
“Then I got labeled. I don’t like labels.”
“Trouble. I was told I was trouble.” Tanora didn’t like the label, but it sure did seem to follow her. She got into quite a few “skirmishes” at her new school and played hooky a lot.
“I was suspended every other week.” Tanora reports the details of this chapter of her young life dispassionately, with neither self-pity nor apology. Them’s just the facts.
“I was misunderstood,” she shrugs.
Again, one can easily see how that might just be the case. You have to wonder how many people really understood the responsibility Tanora carried or the kind of pressure she was under to hold it together at such a young age. Tanora has packed more into her 23 years – more responsibility, more roles, more life lessons, more mistakes – than most people her age. Personally, I know a few 30-year-olds who still haven’t grown up.
“By 8th grade though, I got myself together,” Tanora explains.
“You were, what? Like, 14?”
“13, 14. Somethin’ like that. Anyway, I changed my attitude. I started to play basketball. Then I went to Carver Vo-Tech for high school. I really wanted to start with a clean slate.” For a while, Tanora was on a good track. Then, another derailment.
” I got pregnant.” Tanora was 15. A freshman in high school.
“How did your mother take it?”
Tanora shook her head and let out a sigh. “My mother was upset with me. She was worried.”
Her mother, who loved her dearly, had worked as hard as she did so that she could provide her children with a better life than the one she had chosen for herself. And though her mother still believed in Tanora, not many others did.
“After that, I was told I’d never amount to much,” Tanora said, finally showing a hint of frustration. The thing is, whoever was saying those things – teachers, peers, other relatives – just didn’t know Tanora. For one thing, she’s always been a bit of an entrepreneur. Even as a little girl, she found ways to make money.
“Yeah. I sold candy, socks, whatever. I always had some change in my pocket. But you know, I wanted more.” So after giving birth to a baby girl, Tanora went back to school. Tanora’s mother, who by this time was down to one job, took care of Tanora’s daughter during the day. While in school, Tanora became licensed in cosmetology and soon got an apprenticeship at a beauty salon. By age 17, she was making $300-$500 a week.
“It helped me support my daughter, buy a car, pay for insurance.”
Tanora was back on track. Tanora’s mother was so inspired by her daughter, that she too went back to school and got her high school diploma. They entered Coppin State College together where Tanora studied nursing and her mom studied urban arts. With 60 credits to her name, Tanora was well on her way to a college degree and a new career, something she felt she would be really good at, when tragedy struck. Her mother was diagnosed with MS and had to drop out of school. Shortly thereafter, Tanora found herself dealing with a difficult pregnancy. All this rocked Tanora’s world. So, despite her mother’s protests, Tanora also dropped out of school. This enabled her to take care of her mother and daughter and deal with the difficult pregnancy.
“I was told that was a bad decision, but what would you do?” In the intervening time, Tanora continued to do hair, worked a second job at the Safeway, and married the father of her 2 beautiful children. Still, Tanora yearned for more.
Enter Caroline Center. Caroline Center told Tanora everything she’d needed to hear for so long now.
“They told me I’ve got what it takes. They told me I could do this thing. Become a nurse. They told me they believed in me.”
In 15 weeks, Caroline Center erased the collective voice of all those others in Tanora’s life who had chipped away at her confidence by their perhaps well-meaning but ultimately destructive criticism. Caroline Center opened Tanora’s ears to a different message of hope and possibility and they opened her eyes to her inherent value.
“I worked in the ER, in ICU, CCU, and the Cancer Institute. I really liked the pace of the ER though, so when my internship was over I applied for a job in that department.”
At that particular time, there were no openings. That didn’t deter Tanora. She just kept applying and calling; calling and applying.
“Let’s just say, they got to know my name in HR. The best they could tell me is that they was workin’ on it.” Tanora was tenacious. After a million more calls and a couple of more interviews a position finally opened up and, needless to say, Tanora was offered the job.
Tanora and her husband (who has a good job with the city) have saved just about enough for a down payment on a house and have been approved for a loan. They hope to move to a better neighborhood in the not too distant future.
“This neighborhood ain’t safe. Last summer, there was a murder right outside our door. I can’t let the kids play outside. And the school’s not great either. My daughter would be much better off in a multicultural school.”
In the end, then, Tanora wants what every mother wants: to provide a safe and secure life for her family, one filled with possibility and promise.
“This is how I get through. I’m a planner. I’m a thinker. This all’s a good start, but I’m asking myself, ‘What’s my next step?'”
“Good question. Where do you see yourself in, say, 5 years?”
“In 5 years? I see myself comin’ out of nursing school.”
“And I want to travel. I never been no place. I never been on a plane. I’d like to see the world.”
“Where would you go first?”
“I’m thinkin’ Texas. I’ve got cousins down there. I could go visit them.”
Sounds like as good a place to start as any. Knowing Tanora, I wouldn’t bet against it. Don’t say you haven’t been told.
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