A Bachelor’s degree is a four-year degree. It took me eleven years to earn mine. Why? Life! I started college right after I graduated from high school in 1994. Then my first daughter, LaDae’jha passed away in November of 1995, when she was only 4 years old. After this tragedy, I was devastated, lost, confused, and crazy for years to come. Add to that, right after losing her I was homeless and unstable for two years. Throughout all of my ups and downs over the years following, I would take classes when I could. Finally, eleven years later in 2005 I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
In 2011, I was able to complete my Master’s degree in Social Work. Although I did complete this degree in the two years, a relatively short period of time, it also was not easy. I had just lost my job, I went through a divorce, I had a very large house to care for by myself with no income, and I was a single mother.
Now, that I have some education and have decided on a career path I am competing with people who went to better schools, completed school earlier, and have more professional experience. My Master’s degree is from Wayne State University; in this field the University of Michigan is the top school. My degree doesn’t hold the same weight and prestige as people who went to Michigan. This is one of those things that is not said out loud, but it is true. In addition, for people who went to college and completed when they were younger, they started much earlier than me. Or, even if they didn’t go to college, they were working in their field. So, I also compete for jobs against people who have many years of experience in one company or organization.
Now, let me tell you what I have that they don’t. It may have taken me eleven years to complete my first degree as opposed to their four years, but mine was earned through the fire. I faced many trials along the way. Whenever I would have to stop school, I would be disappointed all over again. Then as soon as I could, I would take classes again. It was my top priority to go to class and I enjoyed my school work. I always received good grades. School and curriculum were never the problem. The problem was life. It was as though the forces of hell were trying to stop me!
I remember leaving school one evening, I had just finished a semester and registered for the next. I had two bags of books – one was the previous semester books I had just used for finals and the other was next semesters books I bought early to get the least expensive used books. On my way home I was pulled over by the police because my plates were expired and I had no insurance. They impounded my car. My daughter was in daycare, and I was on the way to pick her up. Here I was in the rain with my daughter’s car seat, two extremely heavy bags of books, and my purse. I just stood there and cried. Then as always I came up with a plan and kept it moving. That was while working on my Bachelors.
While working on my Master’s I went through a divorce. When we broke up, he moved out and I kept the house. We had an agreement for him to help with the mortgage and for us to share the one car we had at the time. He used the car to move his things, and was supposed to bring the car back in a couple of hours so I could pick up my daughter. When he didn’t come back as planned, I called and he said “I’m not coming back, I’m keeping the car, I left your shit out of the car on the porch. And by the way, I’m not giving you the money I promised each month either. So, um bye (he chuckled)”. I laid there and cried for three days. Like Jesus on the third day I got up, wiped my eyes and got myself together. Thank God I had money he didn’t know about. I bought a car the next week, still started classes that fall…..and still graduated on time!
I also completed mine with no parental support. I was raised by both my mother and father, they loved me and provided for me very well when I was growing up. I was a daddy’s girl and my father spoiled me rotten. However, he passed away when I was 21 years old. Before he passed, he was physically sick and was not able to give me support because of my mother. My mother was mentally ill and very dominating. I am not going to use this post to get into the situation with my mother, but it is relevant to my story to mention that my mother was my biggest obstacle as an adult. She did not provide me with any support in college, on the contrary she did everything in her power to stop me. I could not let her know where I worked or went to school because she would find ways to try and cause me problems. We had a strained and distant relationship during my adulthood, and did not see each other much. So, not only did I not have parental support through college, but the one person that is supposed to be your main support, was my biggest obstacle.
As for the world at large, don’t even get me started on the judgement. I had my first child at age 14, judgement. I was a stripper for 3 years, judgement. I am divorced, judgement. I am not supposed to be standing here at 40 with a Master’s degree, a career, a daughter who is a wonderful person, totally independent with my own place, car, and everything else. This was not the outcome that the enemy had planned for me, and it is not what many of the people along the way expected. I am supposed to be poor, in need, mentally ill, washed up, physically beat down, and watching everyone else who did things “right” succeed.
So, here I am still trying to make my way in life. I now have some education and a career, but I am still struggling like hell to make it. I stand next to people everyday in my work life and personal life who have more than me, have degrees from better schools, have many more years of experience, have names that pull weight in the community, and they know the right people. But what I have is strength, and endurance. I also have life experience they don’t. You don’t go through what I’ve been through and not gain valuable insight and experience. My intuition is strong, I’m strategic, and Lord knows obstacles do not stop me. On the contrary, obstacles make me work harder. I love the saying “there is more than one way to skin a cat.”
When I was still in the fire many years ago, I remember my Pastor at the time, Apostle Ellis Smith, told me something that stuck with me. He said “Tonia you have got to get through this. One day you are going to have a testimony, but right now all you have is a mony.” That may sound harsh, but he was a straight shooter and he was right. For my ladies who are currently in the fire, this is your test. Are you going to pass? Or will you fail? The choice is yours. I advise you to stay strong and focused on your goals. Whatever you are working towards is going to take very hard work and you have to fight in order to win. Nobody…….and I mean nobody is going to give it to you. If you have to stop for a moment and cry, then cry. But, when you are done do not stay there, get up and keep it moving. I have come to believe that is the difference between those who make it and those who do not, the ability to keep enduring and moving forward. If you give up, you will never have anything. You will stay stuck in the cycle, stay defeated, and life will just keep right on moving. But if you fight, you can get in the game and make it! I’m still fighting, but I have also come a long way. I may not be where I want to be, but thank God I am not where I used to be. I can hold my head high and say “I earned mine through the fire.”