2% of teen-aged mothers graduate from college with a degree by the time they’re 30 years old. Before I am 30–I’ll have 4. I have, by all means, defeated societal expectations, traditional student culture and above all, persisted. Trial after trial after trial.
Truth be told, I was never supposed to make it this far. I was impregnated at the age of 18. I thought I knew what I wanted with my life. I thought I knew what was best for me and what was best for my child. I was naive and unrealistic–but not necessarily wrong. I knew I needed better and I knew I wouldn’t rest until I had it. As senior class president I was told that if I was “showing” by the time graduation rolled around, I wouldn’t be allowed to give the graduation speech. I was asked to step down and allow my peer and Class VP to do the talking, but I could still sit on stage.
I didn’t respond to this offer. . . I wish I could tell you that I refused to let them order me to my seat, but I didn’t object at all. I wasn’t in the mood to fight with high school administration or the graduation committee. I was too busy literally fighting… before and after school, on the weekends, after ball games… Whenever. Wherever. I’ve never thought of myself as a fighter. But through my roller-coaster, high school relationship with my equally immature boyfriend, fighting was what I did. I think about it now…It was Unhealthy. It was Often. It was Ignorant. It was what I did.
As if that wasn’t enough stress to add on to my already displeasing circumstances, I was struggling to figure out a way for myself. I was so caught up in a relationship that above all else, lacked reciprocity and I was lost. I was unresponsive to the advice from the people who loved me most, attempting to love someone who didn’t know how to love me back and killing the little bit of self-love I had remaining. I was a wreck…
Months later, on a crisp, winter, Friday morning, my water broke. I had fallen asleep at a girlfriends’ house and walked down her stairs to use the restroom. Midway down, water splashed onto her steps and downward… she met me at the puddle that filled the last step and we just looked at each other. After what seemed like forever I muttered, “I think my water broke.” She smiled. I never returned it, but instead asked that she drive me home. Once there I called the nurses’ line and received feedback on what to do next. My mother, by my side, thought this may be another false labor… I had already had two false labor incidents throughout my pregnancy.
Yet and still the contractions came… consistently, growing stronger by the minutes.. a King was on his way. In a matter of hours I underwent a paradigm shift. I sat in the hospital, and I cried. I just couldn’t stop the tears…. I looked into the eyes of the most amazing, perfectly crafted being I’d ever laid eyes on. He had his father’s face, but his mother’s soul. Immediately, my heart, my purpose, and my life, was his.
Things didn’t shape up for me as quickly as I would’ve liked for them to… I still had fights. I still allowed myself to be further abused. My son’s father was and still is, an amazing dad, by all accounts. But he wasn’t the boyfriend a girl’s mother would hope for. I still accepted mediocrity from those around me… but I knew then what I hadn’t considered or truly believed before: I deserved better. Slowly, I worked towards better… I moved into my own place about a month after giving birth and continued going to the church I joined when I was 5 months pregnant… My progress was minimal, but vital to the success story so many want credit for today.
I have come to the realization that what I did, wasn’t who I was.
I was never, ever supposed to and furthermore expected to, overcome simultaneous obstacles. What many thought would kill me, literally and figuratively, made me stronger. I’ve been beaten, I’ve been lied to, I’ve been used, humiliated, and put down. I could have let that ruin me. But by His grace, I’ve won. I’ve loved. I’ve excelled. I’ve inspired. I’ve overcome. Again, and again, and again, and again, and again… It’s sometimes hard to believe less than 10 years ago, I was a completely different young woman. I was lost. I was hurt. I was misguided. I was always sweet, and always smart… but I was losing. I had given so much of myself away that I walked around, going to and from like an empty ATM—-insufficient funds.
BUT I’d be remiss if I hid the truth about how I found my way to His light. I didn’t take a traditional or even ideal path to the life I live today. Thankfully, he ordered my steps anyhow. It is not the experience I’d want for my sister, niece, cousin, mentees, or future daughter, but that is not my choice to make. It has however, always been my goal to serve as an example, both of what to and what not to do, in hopes of making the road they choose to travel, more simplistic. It’s been my goal to give them someone to look up to.
Because that’s what I had..the greatest of greatest role models. Marquis, growing up I wanted to be just like you… I’d jump fences, play football and do whatever it took to make you proud. You showed me how to work hard for what I want. You showed me how to be a big sister and a loving daughter. You showed me how to protect the people I love… and how to face the very things I feared. Thank you big brother! Daddy, since I learned to read, you’ve pushed me to learn. Since I’ve learned to talk you’ve pushed me to speak UP. Since I’ve embarked on this collegiate journey, you’ve pushed me to KEEP going. Thank you, for your encouragement, for your support, for your care and for your love.. And though I knew you always expected me to do what I am doing, I didn’t always know that I would (notice I didn’t say could) do it. When I wasn’t sure about how to get into college, Ricky Smith called me. He had my mother drop me off to Creighton and filled out my FAFSA for me. I wouldn’t have enrolled in classes my freshman year of college without his help. He didn’t ask me about my pregnancy or how I could diverge from my original academic plan. He told me everything was going to be okay. And it was. Maddie Fennell, my 6th grade teacher, has held me accountable, since I was 12 years old. She is the first woman who showed me why excuses are tools of the incompetent. She is the reason I went into and remain in, education. She is the first woman who modeled experiential learning, who coached me through milestones of development and when I consider it now, the first activist I’d ever been personally exposed to. She is still, and always to me, an angel to the Spencer family. Constance Sorenson-Birk, my unofficial undergraduate advisor, who alone, could light up all of the world. She is the most patient and encouraging woman I’ve ever met. She is a woman of faith, but she never has to tell you that. She carries God’s light in her heart, and it helped me through my darkest undergraduate days. Dr. Jaci Lindburg, my graduate school model of challenge and support. She has a way of pushing you without ever letting you know that that’s what she’s doing. I wasn’t considering a PhD until I met her. She was a reminder that you can be an academic, a mother, a wife, and a SUPER cool woman!! Dr. Abby Bjornsen, a force alone. Thank you for helping to create a graduate experience that has prepared me for doctoral study. Thank you for writing last minute rec letters and answering emails in under 10 minutes (almost always). You helped me shape a grand idea of a student affairs professional and I have been reaching ever since. Dr. Cynthia Robinson, you sweet, direct, and Queen like soul… I hope you know how much of a difference you make across the University of Nebraska at Omaha by just being there. Seeing a Black woman, with a PhD and multiple children… you changed my life. Your vote of confidence in me helped develop my confidence in myself and reach for higher heights. Because of you, I am A healthier woman and mother… Dr. Teresa Lamsam, thank YOU. For never treating me differently. For seeing the potential in me and helping me get through a roller-coaster of a first semester of undergraduate matriculation. You were the only non-family member to visit me and Ma’Kye while I sat in the hospital after giving birth. You made sure I returned to campus to complete midterms and continued pursuing my degree. I don’t think you’ll ever know how much your silence spoke the very words I needed to hear, when I needed to hear them. Dr. Linda Perkins, my CGU angel, my PhD advisor–thank YOU, for pushing me and not allowing me to make excuses for myself. Thank you for setting the bar high and forcing me to surpass even that. Thank you for keeping me up to date on my research interests and being such a selfless and authentic woman. I love you, I appreciate you. Kathleen Fariss, my first-ever California boss! Thank you for the opportunities you’ve afforded me. Thank you for pushing me to be the best version of myself, even when I didn’t feel like it anymore. Thank you for equally supporting my strengths and weaknesses and wrapping around me in such a professional and loving way. You taught me so much about leadership! LaTina, When I met you I found what I sought after in Delta. Thank you for being the epitome of sister-hood and such a giving woman. Thank you for wishing me well, even when you’re going through hell… and always available for encouragement. I appreciate you more than I ever can express. Mommy, for as long as I can remember, I have watched YOU. I have followed what you do well and learned from your failures. I have been able to execute motherhood and academia because I saw you multi-task your way through life. I pray you never underestimate the amount that you’ve taught me, the amount that you’ve given and instilled in me. Or the amount of good you’ve passed on. I am a woman we can both be proud of, because of you! Pops, thank you for speaking GoOD things into my life since the moment you laid eyes on me. Thank you for a God-man example. Thank you for unconditional, heaven-sent love and dedication. Thank YOU for being what this family needed, when this family needed it. Second to last, but never-ever the least, Mynesha Spencer, when I say you’re my everything, I mean just that. Everything else in this world could fall apart today, as long as you’re standing next to me, I’d look over its destruction, and smile. Thanking God that he spared my closest love, to help me through, yet again. You’re the woman that I am working to be. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for never being afraid to tell me when I am wrong. Thank you for never compromising your morals to meet the needs of others. You’re the person I call when my world is rising and the one I cry to when it’s spiraling down. Thank you for being strong, for TOO long, carrying my burdens and yours, for however long I need you. I work hard to be half the sister to you, that you are to me. Every single day I am simply left speechless by just how beautiful of a woman you are. In all that you do, and the way in which you do it. I never wanted for friends, because I always had you. To my Thompson Scholarship, Urban League, Project Achieve and Omaha-wide family! You all are who I look up to! Thank YOU for supporting my academic endeavors. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to make you all proud. You are all an inspiration & iLOVEyou guys so much.
I try to mirror, to my students, the love, patience, guidance and expertise that was extended to me. My life has been filled with guardian angels. For every down I had, God sent someone to help me up. I wouldn’t be where or who I am without them and what they added to my life. More than teaching me how to navigate collegiate spaces successfully, they taught me how to take good care of myself and how to maintain the confidence that I worked so hard to develop over the years. They taught me how to stay true to myself and how to create safe spaces for those around me. They taught me how to innovate. They taught me to believe in myself, and everything else would follow.
I once heard a woman give a keynote address, in which she asked the crowd what they see when they look at her. Guests went on and on about what they saw when they looked at this woman. I was taught that when you don’t have anything good to say, you don’t say it… but had I, I would have told her that I see an attention seeking, highly achieved queen who has yet to realize her eternal value… Furthermore, I would have told her that it isn’t what other people see in you that matters, unless it is a direct reflection of the true you… the you that’s walking in the purpose that God has assigned. I’d never ask a man or woman what they see when they look at me, because quite frankly, I don’t give a damn.
What matters to me is who I see and whether or not that vision is in accordance with God’s expectations & promises. Sometimes it is and sometimes it is not. I am working on getting better, at getting better.
When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a promise that was made to me almost nine years ago. I see potential. I see the young, thin, brown girl. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. In the projects. In poverty. The truth is, the indicators and red flags were abundantly placed in every possible space throughout my journey. I see a woman who failed–and tried again. I see a warrior. I see light. I see good. I see sadness. I see love. I see hope. I see faith. I see pride..That’s right!
• I am proud. Proud that I am me, and not you.
• Proud that I fell down and got back up.
• Proud that life wasn’t perfect. Proud that the circumstances that birthed me, provided me with the strength I’d need to be great.
• Proud that I overcame what was meant to break me.
• Proud that I no longer bar bitterness in my heart. Proud that I forgive the people who wronged me. Proud that I forgive myself for the people I’ve wronged.
• Proud that everything I’ve ever set out to do, I’ve done.
• Proud that I am unafraid…. to live, to love, to risk, to share, to give, to freely be the woman that I truly respect and adore. There was a time when this was not the case. I am proud that I have overcome the insecurities that attempted to haunt me.
• I am proud, proud that I am impacting the lives of the young women just like me. Proud that I am impacting change & enhancing visions.. proud that I am learning a new way to navigate spaces that have historically discredited, disbarred and disenfranchised women and people of color– the best part is, I am teaching it to others….
• Proud that I haven’t forgotten where I’ve come from, and the only way and time I’d consider going back, is to pull someone else forward, from the very same places I’ve been.
The inspiration and value my son has added to my life is immense. It cannot be replaced. He cannot be replaced. If I am ever uncertain of where God may be and what it is he’s doing, all it takes is a glance in King’s direction. Son, if you learn nothing else from me, learn to love and trust Him. You make me so much better.
I am also driven by the hundreds of thousands of young women I know that need Me, or someone like me in their lives. That keeps me going. That pushes me when I am exhausted. Lifts me when I am down. And is the fire that burns inside of me. Most people wait until they’re established to start building their legacy… I want mine to be all inclusive–the hurts, the happys, the haves, the have-nots. I’m going Upward, Onward & Forward & no matter where you are in your life, you can join me… because the chances of you beating me, are very, very slim [Romans 8:31].
Recent PhD successes and this blog-post is dedicated to my Pastor– who near or far has loved on me, covered me, lifted, advised, prayed for, encouraged and spiritually carried me. There is no one else like him. And also to my sister…… who is like the good side of any girls mirror… telling, loyal, uplifting and a reflection of one’s goodness.. You are the epitome of the woman I want to be when I grow up: strong, steadfast, loyal and healthily selfish. You both keep God’s light ever-present in my life and are constant reminders of God’s love for me. . . From the inner parts of my being, ThankYOU & iLOVEyou !