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I had to go on a last minute business trip to D.C. I’d applied to be a social media ambassador for a large nonprofit event. I never thought they’d pick me. I was relatively new to the industry, and my following wasn’t huge. I felt honored. I finally felt successful. I sat on the front row in a glass room on Pennsylvania Avenue. The organizers had assembled an expert and racially diverse panel. They had graphs and charts and spoke intelligently about minority and poverty issues.

But a small voice in the back of mind wanted to ask during the Q & A, “Have any of you ever been poor? I mean really poor. Have you ever lived in Section 8 Housing? Have you ever been an angel on the angel tree? Have you had to wait in line with the hope that someone will help your family? Have you budgeted food stamps? Do you understand what it takes to fight?”

The panel’s theories, ideas, and statistics felt so far away from what I know of the reality of poverty. How can you expect people who are just trying to hold on to do more? It’s almost impossible to think beyond food, clothing, and shelter when those are things you need to survive. When I was in the sixth grade my mom, my sister, and I had to stay with a friend of my mother’s. We all slept in small room in one bed. I didn’t realize at the time that we were homeless. We didn’t have anywhere else to go. We had tried the women’s shelter, but they were closed for remodeling, and the shelter had temporarily relocated 30 miles south, but we didn’t have a car and there wasn’t any form of public transportation, and we certainly couldn’t afford a taxi. How can you help people you don’t even know? How can you help them win a war when you’ve never experienced the battlefield? So why did I win my fight against poverty? My weapons were my support system and one word, “Graduate.” Graduate from high school. Graduate from college. Work hard.

My mom never said the words, “You have to go to college.” But my sister and I were never allowed to do anything less than our absolute best in school. I had an interim report card sent home in the fourth grade, I had a C in one subject. I remember because my mom was sitting on the toilet, pointing her finger at me and said, “I never want to see anything like this again.” I didn’t get another C until finance my senior year of college, but she gave me a pass because my brother and Nan had died a week before the semester began. If my sister or I ever asked about jobs, she would more often than not have us ask a person with that job what we had to do get it. My mom fought for me when I was a child to make sure I had every resource and every opportunity available to me. She checked every report card, went to every parent-teacher conference, had me tested for learning disabilities, and read to me and called special meetings with teachers when she saw I was struggling. I wouldn’t have made it without her or without my brother and sisters, my grandparents, my aunt, cousins, teachers, and neighbors doing whatever they could to help.

To win the war against poverty, you have to have support and encouragement, and you can never, ever give up. You will be knocked down by systems and people. They will try to keep you in the same place.

I know that having people on your side can be the difference between surviving and thriving. I’m sharing my story for all the warriors, whether you have support or are going it alone. You are not truly alone, even though it feels that way most of the time, we number in the millions. We have followed an unspoken rule to keep silent about the reality of our American Dream.

It is time to step from the shadows and tell your story. And remember, “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” (A.A. Milne).




About the "Stories that Change Hearts, Minds, and Policies" Collection



Organizers and Advocates are heroes. Every great hero has a story to tell. The "Stories that Change Hearts, Minds, and Policies" Collection shares stories about challenge, triumph, great personal cost, and outright determination to love and serve Arkansas.

The Foundation put this collection together to share spoken-word narratives from our "Stories that Change Hearts, Minds, and Policies" Story Slam, where we recognized "October is Advocacy and Organizing Month" (OAOM). Our Story Slam was hosted in partnership with the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and The Yarn. Special thanks to Herstory Writers' Workshop for helping Arkansas Organizers and Advocates find their voices and tell their stories.

Click here to experience other powerful stories of Organizers and Advocates who have transformed Arkansas communities.