When my parents met, my mom was a 16-year-old, straight-A student from Indiana and my father was a 26-year-old convenience store employee. "Don't date him," they told her. "He's too old for you, and it will be nothing but trouble." My mom didn't listen.
But those people were right. He was nothing but trouble. He isolated my mother from her family and convinced her that things would be better if she moved in with him. Before long, she was pregnant with me. "Don't have the baby," they told her. "He'll just leave and you'll be raising the baby on your own." My mom didn't listen.
But those people were right. My father left shortly after I was born, and she was alone with me at 17 years old. "Don't drop out of school to raise the baby," they told her. "It will be too hard and you won't be able to make to make it work without an education." My mom didn't listen.
But those people were right. By the time I was in middle school, my mother was selling drugs to pay the bills, and she used them as well. She thought I didn't know, but she wasn't very good at hiding it. "The daughter is going to end up just like the mother," they said. "Her father's gone and her mom's a drug dealer, she'll never amount to anything."
But those people were wrong.
I may not have had parents to guide me, but I had books that showed me a better way. I could see myself in the characters and experience the same range of emotions that I read on each page. I learned about things that were possible with hard work, and envisioned worlds that existed only in fantasy. But in every book, I got inspiration.
Whereas some people saw tragedy when they read about Anne Shirley being sent to Green Gables, I saw a young woman who put in the work to achieve her goals and disprove everyone who made assumptions about her. And when I read about Mary Lennox's quest to find the Secret Garden, I didn't see a spoiled rich girl. Instead, I saw a young woman who used imagination and inspiration to create her own happy endings.
Reading was the one thing I could do without having to ask for money, or a ride to the bookstore. I could check out an eBook from my library and download it right to my phone as I sat on my front porch. I was able to tune out everything else going on in my life and focus on what was possible. And it wasn't just the characters who inspired me, but the writers as well. I decided that if these strangers could create stories that captivated and motivated readers, then I could do it too.
Instead of reading every day, I started writing. Paragraphs became pages, which became chapters. By the time summer arrived, I had written an entire book with 36 chapters and an array of adventures. I hope to share the book with young adults in the future so they can be as inspired by my words as I have been by the writing of others.
But my book isn't ready for its debut yet. It sits in a file on my computer, waiting for the right time to bring it to light. What's important is that it's there, telling the story of a young girl who overcame her challenges and went on to life of strength. Her family's situation didn't pre-define her, and the opinions of others didn't shape who she became.
It's a story that I'm proud to have written, and I'm not worried about whether anyone ever reads it. What matters is that it's possible for a girl like me to create my own ending.
Picture this: A small, 13-year-old boy soaked in sweat, throwing his body onto a handrail in the blistering heat. Whereas the initial thought of this seems jarring, the reality was that everyone nearby continued to go about their business, not really noticing the kid.
That boy was me — on one of the most memorable days I had ever experienced.
As a beginner to the skateboarding world, I was trying repeatedly to master a trick that would allow me to take my board down a handrail and onto a ramp. Each time I attempted the trick, I landed on the hot concrete with a thud. However, the sound of my body hitting the pavement didn't rattle those around me — they'd probably tried the same trick themselves and had definitely seen newcomers like me working diligently to master it.
When I decided to take a break, I watched from the sidelines as the more experienced skaters made their way effortlessly across the ramps, performing kickflips and ollies with the ease of someone who was simply walking. But another dichotomy also struck me. Sitting on the sidelines, my brand-new skateboard and shiny new helmet were practically gleaming in the light of the sun.
When I had decided to try skateboarding earlier that month, I'd dipped into my allowance savings and picked up the equipment I needed. However, the most experienced skaters at the park were skating on the shabbiest boards that looked like they might splinter at any moment.
As I was making this observation, one of the gods of the skate park glided toward me. Everyone knew Steve — he was sponsored by a skate company and knew every possible trick. "Nice work," he said. I looked around to confirm he was talking to me. I couldn't believe he had noticed my attempts at working the handrail.
"I'm trying," I said, slightly embarrassed that he had seen me falling to the ground repeatedly. "Do you have any tips?"
He shook his head. For a minute I was feeling dejected, as if he didn't want to help me. "You're doing it the only way there is, man," he told me. "Just keep trying."
He patted me on the back and grabbed his worn-down board, hopping on it to drop back into the skate bowl. I looked back at my brand-new board. Ever since I was a child, I had always thought that skateboarders were some of the coolest people out there, and Steve's encouragement only solidified that belief.
It became clear to me that this was one sport where it didn't matter if you could afford coaches or fancy equipment — there was no way to get a leg up in skating without putting in the work. Skateboarding is the great equalizer — if you practice, you'll succeed — that's all there is to it. Even if I came from more of a place of privilege than some of the other skaters, the reality was that I was privileged just to be part of this community.
My experiences in the skating world have now spanned more than four years, and I have spent upwards of 12 hours at a time at that skate park. I've learned all the tricks I set out to master, but more importantly, I have developed a diverse and extensive group of friends. We may be from different backgrounds and neighborhoods, but what unites us is that we are all working toward the same goals, and we've forged deep connections along the way.
I have taken the lessons from the sense of community in the skating world into my other pursuits as well. Where there may be a group of very different people in any gathering, there will always be a thread that unites us, and I will consistently be looking for that connection.
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