I do not remember my father.  He died when I was around three years old, by my mother’s hand. She took his life before I got a chance to know him because he was unfaithful. No matter what someone does to hurt you, you do not have the right to take a life - the life of a father; a son; a brother. He might have been unfaithful, but he did not deserve to leave this earth or his children. 


My mother was sentenced to life in prison and my four siblings and I moved in with my aunt, three cousins, and grandmother.  My grandmother was my world growing up, until she died when I was eight.  I moved around a lot – I lived first with my aunt, then my older sister, then another aunt, then another sister.  I went to six different elementary schools, four middle schools, and two high schools.  My brother died in a motorcycle accident when I was in middle school.  He was eighteen.  No parents, no grandparents, and then no brother.  I always felt lonely as a child, I guess because I spent a lot of my early years losing things – people, homes, stability.


But that all changed when I found GEM.  My caring English teacher recommended me to this program in high school.  At first, I was skeptical because it sounded like Girl Scouts to me.  But once I got involved, I saw that it was so much more.  GEM helped me make new friends, explore new places, and learn about a bigger world than the one I was used to. It gave me a sense of belonging and security that I had been missing for so long. I made my best friend in GEM, one who still holds that role today.   GEM made me think differently and become more open-minded because I got to meet people with different points of view and life experiences.  


With all the moving around in my young life, I was never able to be a part of anything.  I was very shy and didn’t see the point of making friends because I knew I would end up moving.  And in high school, it turned out I had to switch schools yet again.    I thought I was going to lose GEM, too - but GEM is where my story of instability stopped.  Even after I had to move across town and switch schools, the dedicated leaders of GEM made sure I kept my GEM family.  They even picked me up and took me home from activities.  They showed me that I was important, and that I was valued as a member of this group.  They gave me opportunities, connections, resources, and hope for a brighter future.  GEM formed me into the confident, open-minded person that I am today.  


GEM gave me stability for the first time in my life and set me up for future success.  After high school, I went to Chowan University for two years, thanks in part to a scholarship from GEM.  Then I transferred and graduated from Morgan State University.  I currently work in Human Resources as a HR Analyst. I met my boyfriend at Chowan University, and we have two awesome kids. Once I graduated from GEM, it was important for me to stay involved through participation in the GEM2 programs and alumnae events.  I am proud to still be connected with this program that meant so much to me.  


My siblings and I still have issues with our mother which I hope will resolve in time. We all still talk to her and visit her; she is our mother after all, and nothing can change that. I’ve carried her expired driver’s license in my wallet for years.  Once I could drive, I would visit her in prison regularly, and I brought the kids too, so they know their grandma and she would know them.  My daughter called the prison “Grandma’s House” and unfortunately had the security procedures down pat.   After serving more than twenty years and being denied parole three times, my mother was released from prison a few months ago and now lives with one of my sisters in Baltimore. It is unfortunate that the prison system can transform a person into someone else that you do not recognize. I do not see the change because I was a toddler when the crime was committed, but my sisters see the change in her and are trying to get to know this new personality. We are all looking forward to resolving our issues with our mother so we can move forward in getting to know her and strengthening our relationship.   I thank GEM for providing a stable family for me when I didn’t have one of my own, and for helping me develop the self-confidence to work through challenging issues like this.
 

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