Giving has always been part of my DNA. I honestly cannot pinpoint any particular event or situation that proved to be the catalyst for this desire of mine. Being involved in the communities from which I came have always been important to me and I have always tried to actively fulfill that role.
To be quite honest, growing up in my city, I realized that the outcome of children’s lives could be drastically different if they had someone present, who cared, rooting them on. I witnessed regularly the effects when children did not have role models in their lives. I also witnessed the positive impact of what happens when children have positive, active participants in their lives. In fact, I also often wondered how different my life would have been if my biological father were present, active and engaged in my early, developmental years. The culmination of these experiences enabled me to decided that I would be an active participant in the community, sharing my knowledge, mentoring students and making myself accessible to our youth. Although success is relative, I knew that even if I touched one life, then I had made a difference.
“The goal of education is action”.
- Dr. Victor Paul Weirwille
throughout the years, I have volunteered with numerous organization on a volunteer basis. I was active with Big Brothers and Big Sisters for years. Much to my extreme joy, my “little sister” entered her first year of college this year. I was and am sooo proud of her. A brief history: we were matched when she was eight, have experienced many growing pains and life changes together, and now to see her living and thriving and finding her place in this world is such an extreme joy.
Now, between work and graduate school, I am left with little time to donate to others. However, one goal I had this year was to organize a group of colleagues to speak to a group of high risk, high school students. If you have been around me at one point or another, then you have heard me say that you cannot pay me to go back to those hormonally imbalanced days. But at the same time, I know my experience would have been greatly enhanced if I had someone to talk to who could provide insight and guidance. Navigating college and the politics of the corporate world can be a challenge. And while my colleagues and I don’t have it all figured out, we still have a lot of knowledge and insight to impart. So off to Maplewood on a raining Friday morning we ventured……
To help the day go smoothly, I had students pre-submit questions in advance, I also made sure they were aware that they could ask us anything. Prior to the day of the event, I talked to a friend about this engagement. I was reminded that it was my responsibility to se the tone and let the students we were there to talk at them, but to talk to them. I was also reminded that if I really wanted to make an impact, that I should be honest, forthcoming and share my story so they would understand that our paths are not very different. So, I began the conversation with a quick snapshot of my truth and a broad overview of where I came from.
After speaking, I realized this was the first time that I had spoken my truth out loud, in all of its transparency in front of a group of strangers. I could hear and feel my voice waver as I spoke about my experiences, word by word, sentence by sentence. As I was speaking, I caught the glance of another speaker / coworker who also happens to be a very good friend of mine, eyes get wide and wider as I spoke. I believe there was surprise that I would be as honest as I was with coworkers present. But I did and would do it all over again if it meant I could reach just one student. But I am only human, so when I finished, I was not prepared for the mix of shame and vulnerability that swept over me. I recall vividly finishing and everything everyone was saying being a blur. I felt like I had betrayed my family by speaking our truth. Without knowing it, I had let my head and eyes drift to the floor as my thoughts raced, doubts crept into my mind and the feeling of wanting to flee and retract everything took over me. However, in that moment, I felt someone staring at me. I looked up and the young lady closest to me was staring at me. Our eyes met and she gave me the biggest smile. I smiled back. Her gesture was the most sincere and encouraging smile, and God knew it was exactly what I needed at that moment. I had finally taken the mask off and revealed that I am far from perfect, my background is not perfect, and my family is not perfect. And guess what….it was freeing. It was the first that i had revealed a part of my past so honestly, and candidly. And it was freeing.
The students gave us a hearty applause at the end and asked if we could come back in the Spring. I know I will be back.