Prompt: “We are aware that the world does not respond to mental illnesses as they do to physical illnesses. How has the lack of mental illness awareness in your family affected you and how did you form your aspirations while conflicting with your environment? Be honest and share your truth (Lacy 2018).”
I remember my feet dragging against the floor as I was being escorted by my mother and three detectives through the East Orange Police Department. My uncle, Phillip, had just been shot and killed. I was terrified to be surrounded by police. I wrapped my arms around the stuffed giraffe that I had dragged everywhere with me. It kept me comfort, it was the only thing that I knew would never leave me. The interrogation itself was ruthless. The police asked me if I had ever seen my uncle “sniff stuff” or if I had ever seen him have a gun. I was only five years old.
I know now that my uncle had fit the description of other black men wanted by police. My uncle Phillip was no killer, he was a law abiding citizen who really enjoyed cheesesteak sandwiches and WWE reruns. Most importantly he was human. I wish they had put more effort into finding his killer than finding him guilty of crimes he would never commit.
My innocence was gone from then on. However, school was always an escape. My uncle instilled a love of literacy onto me. He would show me how to do crossword puzzles and read Green Eggs and Ham. Reading allowed me to escape the harsh reality that I was facing early on and essentially opened up a new world to me. Once my senior year of high school began, I became passionate about pedagogy. From then on, I began to form my aspirations to teach children in inner-city schools and encourage them to be curious, open, and filled with grit. Just as my educators did for me. My teachers recognized my passion for writing early on and engraved in my head that my passions could take me far.
Even though I enjoyed school, to pretend that I was not struggling mentally was criminal. My family ignored the fact that I needed therapy for years. In fact, the situation feels like it was swept under the mat. It was not until I took action and spoke up about my struggles that I began therapy at the age of sixteen. For over ten years I was carrying loads of trauma on my shoulders. Unfortunately, my family does not see the importance in therapy, they believe in internalizing struggle and letting it continue to hinder them. I want to break these generational curses.
As I matured, I realized how much my uncle’s story and my family’s history formed my aspirations to change the negative connotation that surrounds treating mental health in the black community. I wanted to become who I needed when I was the five year old girl who clenched a stuffed animal in one hand and fear in the other.
Now I get a chance to further my passions into the world, while still learning about myself and unlearning some of the traits that I’ve inherited. My path to teaching is something that I could not foresee, because as a young girl I was encapsulated with fear. I was constantly told that I did not matter, by the law and by my family. Because of the constant ridicule, sometimes I am too hard on myself. I hold myself to high standards because subconsciously I believe that failure isn’t an option. However in order to learn, I must make mistakes. My first mistake in adulthood was believing that it would only take four years to become an educator, but in reality it takes a lifetime. I’m in the process of learning about myself and life around me. I’m going to teach through my lenses and bring about change in the world one student at a time.