Not My Thing to Give Up
This story was written for the January 2019 ThreeSixty Magazine and was reprinted with the permission of ThreeSixty Journalism, a high school outreach program of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota Humanities Center is proud to partner with ThreeSixty Journalism and six other community and media organizations to present the Truth and Transformation: Changing Racial Narratives in Media conference March 19-20, 2019 at Hamline University.
Every night at 8:30 p.m., the lights went out. I didn’t have a say. At the Bridge for Youth Homeless Shelter in Minneapolis, my freedom was limited.
At 15, I moved in with about two dozen youth who, like me, found themselves without a place to go, without parents or guardians to take care of them. I arrived to the shelter on a January midnight, and I was welcomed by a large yellow mural in the front entrance that displayed inspirational phrases. I was led into my room, which I shared with three other teen girls. It was unkempt. The air was chilly, but fans were turned on. Clothes littered the floor and beds. And I can still smell the strong aroma of weed all around us.
One of the girls woke up from her sleep and angrily commented on why staff was bringing someone else in the room.
I felt immediately rejected and knew that was not where I wanted to be.
The staff member’s tone was soft but tired. “Just go to sleep,” she said.
I slipped into the twin mattress and started to cry.
About a month earlier, my mum and I escaped from my dad after various domestic violence instances. After that, my mum began experiencing mental illness due to PTSD. I faced the difficult situation of watching my mum become a totally different person.
At first, my mum and I lived in the Cornerstone domestic violence shelter for one month, but I left because my mum had a mental breakdown and needed to get help. From there, we were separated. My mum went to Hennepin County Medical Center in order to get help. And I went to live at Bridge for Youth. At that place, I could have given up, but I decided to keep going.
In February 2018, I reunited with my mum, and we moved to Lewis House in Eagan, another domestic violence shelter. We couldn’t live there for too long because we were considered Ramsey County residents and had to move back to Ramsey County. We lived at Eagle’s Nest shelter in St. Paul for another two or three months. Finally after that, we found somewhere to live through the YWCA Transitional Housing Program. A place we finally called ours.
After each move, I had to miss school for three days, while I waited for transportation to be set up. I was also trying to survive school. Using various excuses for friends every time hangout days are set. Worrying about grades, things and people around me, completely forgetting about myself and my needs.
At the same time, I was living the life of an adult and a teenager. Pretending to be my mum on the phone in order for documents to be turned in, collected or signed. Paying bills on time. Working with our case worker, translating her words to Yoruba and my mum’s words to English in order for us to be financially stable on our own.
Even after all these challenges, I never let it get to me because it’s not my thing to give up. Although we still have a long way to go, we were able to achieve a few things. My grades went up. Mum is doing okay and has a job in the career field she loves the most, even if she recently had another episode of mental illness. As a 16-year-old, I’m still trying to find my way around life. Making up for the lost experiences I was supposed to have as a teenager. Worrying about my future career, colleges and what is next in life.
Overall, even if life can be a difficult place to live in, never give up or give in to difficulties. Stand up, face it, and say to it, “You will NOT be a boss over me.” Throughout these experiences, I could have easily dropped out of school, given in to life and my challenges, but I chose to keep going. Trust me, that is one of the best decisions I have made in my life.