VE 3 and Me: Introduction
I was raised in Gary, Indiana. We lived in a tiny basement apartment that flooded every time it rained. A single parent of three girls, my mother walked us about ten blocks to school each day and returned to pick us up each afternoon. A trained cosmetologist and seamstress, she made our clothes and styled our hair impeccably. And hid our poverty from us. Even at four years old (pictured below), I realized how special my mother was…how special women like her were and continue to be. Even after she married my father and we relocated to a better home, her wisdom, self-sacrifice, and determination influenced me personally and professionally. Initially the quintessential protector/provider, my father would later also struggle to make ends meet in the post-industrial rustbelt city. That backdrop provided the context for my life’s work.
No matter the obstacle, my parents modeled the attitudes and behavior I strove to emulate. Get as much education as possible, be and do your best, expect the best, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, speak out against injustice - these were our family mantras. Even the dinner table was an opportunity to educate, equip, and empower our little bodies. My curiosity was stoked. I was also compelled to be discerning because people and situations are often more complex than is evident. Local churches and schools were part of my village. Ultimately, I was socialized to help make situations better than I found them.
My family’s experiences and outcomes are not examples of grit, but rather the reality of the trials and triumphs of a working class urban family that placed God, community, and family first. And Gary was full of such families of diverse races that were also experiencing similar economic challenges and pushing back against the odds for the sake of their communities, families, and children. Even as a child, I recognized that their experiences were often unheard or reduced to sound bites and stereotypes. It became my vocation to help create spaces in which their honest, candid stories could be better heard. Like they did for me, their voices can help educate, equip, and empower us all.