Growing up I never considered myself to be missing much, I suspect, because there was so much love in my home. I have memories of playing with friends in Toledo where I was born, and pictures that are evidence of my care worn in my Easter Sunday dress and decorating my Cabbage Patch birthday cake. My mom and I stayed in a two-bedroom apartment, surrounded by family and a strong support system. I know there were hard times that resulted in Welfare and Bankruptcy, but I was too young to know how that affected my own lifestyle.
When we made the move to Cleveland, there were more financial obstacles. I wouldn’t have understood the struggle as 5-year-old Nicole, but looking back as a 30-something, I can relate more to what a huge transition that move was for my mom.
And how humbling it must have been.
We shared a bedroom until she got on her feet, only for us to be evicted from our apartment. I still remember reading the eviction letter as a 9-year-old and hoping the word “eviction” didn’t mean what I thought it meant. But it did.
After that, we shared a bedroom again, cramped in a set of twin bunk beds in the 2-family home my grandmother rented. Said home had bars on the windows and our arrival was welcomed with a family of roaches. We were definitely in “the hood” and most nights I slept on the floor in the living room. Even sharing these things now I feel nervous because I never want to expose the difficulty of these two women I highly esteem. My intent is never to shame them, but to share their story of how far we came.
And how far we have come.
Yesterday I did an interview where the interviewer mentioned Red Lining. It is only in my adulthood that I learned I was a product of a similar notion. As a kid, the goal was for me to receive a good education. In Toledo I attended a private school where I learned things really early. I remember doing my multiplication tables at 4 or 5-years-old. My parents made a lot of sacrifices for me to get that education, and God knew it was going to be a foundation for where He would take me in my academic career. The money got tight though, and I had to go to public school by first grade.
The school system in Cleveland is divided (and probably similar to other cities) where the “good schools” are in the suburbs and the inner city schools get shorted on resources, information, and maybe even teachers who really care. So, we did what a lot of people probably did back then when it came time for me to go to school. We lied.
Since we were in “the hood”, legally I wasn’t allowed to go to the suburban school I had went to before we got evicted. My parents explained to 10-year-old Nicole that going forward I would need to take two public transportation buses home. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be a parent and have your kid ride several city buses alone. We didn’t even have cell phones back then and anything could have happened. I did this for most of my Middle School Career. I still remember the numbers of these buses: take the 48 to the 10 (and of course reverse the order when going into the suburbs).
I pass the bus station I used to wait at everyday driving in my neighborhood.
Ultimately our scheme was exposed when a teacher at my school witnessed me hopping on the RITA (that is what we call the public buses here in CLE). We received a letter in the mail stating I would need to validate my address. My parents did what they had to do. They lied again. This time we used another student’s address for the remainder of my 8th grade year and every morning my mom would take me to this girl’s home where I would get a ride with her from her parents so that it looked like I was actually living there.
Finally we were able to move into an actual suburb so that I could attend another “good school”. But that is when I got exposed to what real Middle Class citizenship looked like.
I’ll go into that another day on another post.
But let me tell you on this post how God brings things full circle. I am now a homeowner, right around the corner of that two-bedroom apartment my mom, grandma and I started out in. I pass it almost daily. I ride down the street where flashbacks of me in the backseat doing what kids do, playing and looking out the car window, re-surface. I visited it a time or two and am in shock by how little changes there are. It is still rundown and shabby but now the pool that was there has been filled with cement. This saddened me, because I’m sure that pool served as one of the happy times for many kids living there. Especially during the summer when it’s hot and, who has air conditioning?
Looking back I can see how so many families staying there were struggling, trying to make ends meet. We were a brigade of single-parents, immigrants, and low income families whose parents wanted better for their children. And I am the recipient of that.
I now have two degrees from two prestigious colleges. Am a homeowner. Have two businesses. And the list goes on and on.
Education was the ticket for me and it grieves my heart that our system is set up to advance only those who are privileged enough to pay for it.
Even in, quote on quote “public schools”, there is still a fee.
The only ones who could attend, were the ones whose parents had the money to pay the rent, oh excuse me, the mortgage, to live in those districts.
But what about those who value education enough to apply themselves? What about those of us who work hard and love learning and will do what it takes to get to the top?
Even if we have a starting point that is further behind our peers.
What I’m grateful for with my upbringing though, is not just the two women who laid down their lives for me to have better opportunities, but it was the Spirit of the Living God who intervened and gave, when they couldn’t. He ordered our steps when we didn’t even know they needed to be ordered. He hedged us in His arms, protecting us when we were “breaking the law”. He put me exactly where I needed to be to attend the college that would be a life changing experience for me, in so many ways.
And now I can open doors for others. Now I have the resources to provide to people in need the way that we were once in need.
God’s intervention in my life and in the life journey of my family’s has been the cornerstone for our, not just survival, but success. We are a story of hard word, tenacity and redemption. And guess what? We are just getting started.
Stay tuned for when the interview I did on this discussion drops on the podcast “Life Got in the Way“! I thoroughly enjoyed the host Nikki C. She is definitely one to watch.
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