My pain is what pushed me into my purpose.

April 28, 2020

I come from the streets of Newark, New Jersey. Both of my parents were in and out of jails and state penitentiaries for most of my life.  As an only child, I had to pretty much raise myself.  Although I did have relatives who cared for me, it was very hard for them to give me the support I needed because this form of trauma was normal within my family and community.  But in spite of these hardships, I persevered and became a motivational speaker, author and philanthropist.  I knew deep down that my trauma was not normal and that I needed to change my story. Today I live with my own family in Hampton Roads, Virginia and I am a successful entrepreneur. But the pain of growing up with the loss of my mother and father has never left me, and so I devote much of my time to working to rebuild families impacted by mass incarceration through the two programs I created:  Teaching Beyond Bars and Parenting Behind Bars.

I developed Teaching Beyond Bars in 2012.  I am a longtime member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and that year I received an e-mail from the leader of one of the committees I participate in called Children of Incarcerated Parents.  Because of a family emergency, she was unable to attend the forthcoming national conference and asked if I could make a presentation in her place.  My presentation, which focused on helping teachers understand their role in the lives of young children who are facing the trauma of having a parent incarcerated, was so well received that I realized there was a gap that needed to be filled.  My Teaching Beyond Bars workshop was the result.

Parenting Behind Bars came out of my own very personal sorrow of seeing my mother arrested and incarcerated again in 2016. I tried to understand what would cause her to jeopardize so many things—her relationships with me, with her grandchildren, with her husband.  Something awakened in me and challenged me to figure out what was going on.   Parenting Behind Bars was born out of my own need to show my mom that she could still be a parent, even from the inside of a prison, and that she could use the time there to learn how to come out and stay out.  I created a twelve week course that explores the issues that caused mothers to be where they are, and teaches them how to stay involved with their children even while incarcerated.  I speak to them not just theoretically, but as a child who still hurts from years of having a parent in prison.  Next week I’ll be bringing Parenting Behind Bars into my second local city jail and I couldn’t be more excited!

My pain is what pushed me into my purpose.  In this line of work not all stories are success stories.  I see women who relapse and lose their children again, retraumatizing them.  Seeing that kind of pain can make you say, I don’t want to help anybody else, I’m just going to live my life.  But the thing that keeps me going and keeps me pushing is that I do have a purpose and I can use my pain to help other people change their families. If I can change the family then I can change the world – that’s my motto.

Leading With Conviction has been life-changing! I’m learning so much about me.  I jokingly told David that I felt like I was being reset to the manufacturer’s setting.  There are so many ways I have programmed myself to think and do, and I realize now that I am a work in progress and that is okay.  I am so looking forward to the next forum!

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