My first opinion column for the Jackson Free Press was "I Was a Wood Street Girl." After I wrote about my early years of aspiring to be a drug dealer, and how I escaped that mentality, I received a number of replies from people grateful for the realness of the column and my willingness to open up about my life. They were thrilled to have a front-seat ride through the thoughts of a young, black woman.
More importantly, people were inspired and fired up in the moment. But we allowed the ball to roll off the court.
Looking back, I see that since I published that column in April 2006, I have neglected the very charge that I was giving readers. I charged city residents to look back, reach down and pull someone up. But when my sixth-grade science teacher recently visited me at work I realized that I had lost focus of this goal.
"Do you remember what you said at the end of your ‘Wood Street Girl' column?" she asked. Before I got a chance to answer, she quoted the last line, "If you are in a position to change one life, you can change the future of this city."
She went on to tell me about a current Rowan student who reminded her of my sixth-grade self. I was not the ideal student back then, so for her to make that comparison, I knew that the young lady (who we'll call M^2 for privacy purposes) was a hand full. I was hot-headed, flip-mouthed, and had an over-the-top attitude. As Mrs. Thomas described the young lady's personality, it was almost as if she was talking about me.
Mrs. Thomas had given my column to a group of students who had to stay after school, including. M^2. Mrs. Thomas told me that M^2 was emotionally overwhelmed by my story. More importantly, M^2 felt a sense of hope after reading my article—hope that she had given up on, just as I had when I was her age.
"This is powerful stuff, Melishia," Mrs. Thomas said. "The girl was in tears when we finished reading the article. You know I am counting on you, don't you?"
Because Mrs. Thomas was a driving force in my personal growth, I could not refuse her when she asked if I could meet M^2 in person.
It was a Friday morning when I visited, and I took my best friend Amber along. I figured, if M^2 saw two people who looked like her, from her neighborhood, and doing well, she'd have no choice but to be inspired. Besides, Amber and I have been friends since sixth grade. We share most of the same attitudes and outlooks on life.
Mrs. Thomas led us to M^2's classroom, asked her teacher if we could see her, and we headed to the library. As we walked down the long hallway toward the library, Amber and I laughed about our school days. M^2 was quiet and fidgety, as if she was nervous about meeting us. But I also saw a spark of excitement in her eyes. Mrs. Thomas initiated the conversation by asking me to tell M^2 about my sixth-grade year.
We talked about everything from how to deal with peer pressure to overbearing teachers. I reached deep into my soul and laid my heart on the table that day. I wanted her to know that I was not just there because Mrs. Thomas asked me to come, but because I knew she could relate to me.
M^2 is from a loving, nurturing family. She has older brothers and sisters, but sometimes young people need a little more. We naturally hold back emotions from family members because we'd like them to believe that we are strong-minded and emotionally stable. More than anything, I wanted her to know that she isn't alone, that people around her share the same struggles and concerns.
I was straightforward about reality. Life is not fair. It never has been, and it never will be. I told her that she would have to work hard in order to be successful. I was honest about the effects that a bad attitude will eventually have on her. I was unable to enter a prestigious academic program because my bad attitude poorly affected my relationship with my middle school teachers. I was open about my past, and the fact that I still struggle with some of the same things I did as a sixth grader. Social status will always be important, but I let her know that it isn't a top priority. I shared my personal failures, as well as my determination to overcome my destructive attitude.
By the end of the conversation, M^2 was in tears, and she made it clear that she wanted to change her behavior. She vowed to make the change, and I vowed to keep in touch.
Weeks later, Mrs. Thomas told me that M^2 is a changed person. She has a positive outlook on school, her social life, and the people around her. She has been consistent with her progress since we met. I was overjoyed. I felt complete and whole. I was more excited that I had changed someone's outlook on life, a task that we usually neglect due to its difficulty. I knew that I had made a difference, and yes, I felt like I changed the world.
As a component of my JFP internship, I hope to initiate a mentoring program for young adults to become the missing link between teenage girls and older adults. I believe that my age group (19-25 year olds) should build more personal relationships with younger girls because certain messages from someone close to their age are easier for them to accept and understand. If you are interested in making that connection, please e-mail me at [e-mail missing].
So good to read you again! Hoping you get lots of response. We need five hundred more of you.
That is a great story. We can't change the world by ourselves, but we can change one person's life. Hopefully, this will be one less person that will be lost to drugs, prostitution, jail or even an early death.
- golden eagle
I had been thinking about you, Melishia! Hope life's treating you well. Great article, which I hope will be far-reaching and life-changing.