Youth Voices Rising Writing Contest 2023 — Fifth Place, Essay
Two things define an individual: your patience when you have nothing, and your attitude when you have everything. Those who overcome their circumstances in times of hardship — desperation, even — are often exposed and resonate to individuals who have undergone a similar test of character. This shared endurance serves as potent fuel for promoting a healthy mindset in the young individual. Implementing respect and kindness from a young age and fostering a sense of independence and compassion, but not complete reliance, is vital for preventing adolescents from leaping into a life intertwined in the juvenile justice system. As a foster youth, this shared connection is fleeting. The desperation of my situation is, more often than not, too much for me to bear. I consider myself to be very prideful, but I am also brave.
Now, what is the bravest thing an individual can do? Ask for help. It is not giving up. Rather, it’s refusing to give up.
I was 12 when I witnessed my mother being crammed into a police vehicle as I was casually walking home from school. I hadn’t even gotten near my home yet — I was just walking past the liquor store. I don’t recall the questions or answers the police had for me, a 12-year-old claiming an intoxicated hag on the curb. I only recall the policemen’s final phrase addressed to me: “You don’t deserve this, kid. Don’t end up like your mom, alright?”
To be told at the young age of 12 that an individual who looks after and cares for you isn’t someone you should aspire to follow in their footsteps was quite the shock. As time and my rebellious phase grew on, I began to resonate with what the officer said. “I don’t deserve this.” I realized the next statement rang truer than the former: “Don’t end up like your mom, alright?”
My mother is an alcoholic and drug addict. She took out her frustrations on anyone within a two-mile radius, it seemed. I took after that terrible habit. When my closest relationships started deteriorating, I realized that my mentality was the issue. I assumed that because I was born in this terrible situation, I couldn’t accomplish anything great; that I wasn’t equal to my classmates and friends, even. I believed that my situation was always holding me back, so my inferiority complex grew.
It is at this point that I’d like to pose an interesting question: Are all individuals truly equal? These days, everywhere you go there is talk about a fight for equality. As Yukichi Fukuzawa once said, “Heaven does not create one [person] above or below another.” People like to throw his words around, but that’s not the whole quote. He goes on to say that while we are all equal at birth, pretty soon, things begin to change. Academic effort is what sets some people to rise above others. He continues by saying “any existing distinction between the wise and the stupid, between the rich and the poor, comes down to a matter of education.” At any rate, humans change over time based on actions. Change comes not only from actions of their own, but actions of others around them or a change in environment.
After being in a few foster homes, I was overwhelmed with sadness. I never let my guard down to open my pain-filled heart to others. After being sad for so long, I realized that I was a coward. I learned from a social worker about how an individual will assimilate to their environment to regain any sort of lost comfort in themselves. That social worker helped me find a therapist. Through a hard process of recollecting repressed memories and learning to accept my past, I was finally free to embrace the present and rejoice for the future. This new joy of learning is where I found peace. The joy of pursuing a serious education excited me. For the first time, I opened up to myself.
I’m currently hard at work, balancing two jobs and skipping along a career pathway at Orange Coast College. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed and stressed like I’m biting off more than I can chew, but I have faith and high expectations of myself. I know when to take a break and recharge, plus I have an amazing support system. It took me time to properly communicate my feelings, and my loved ones are aware of this. I’m merrily surrounded by patient individuals who wish the best for me, don’t fear my past, and exult my current success, by loved ones that uplift me when I am upset, and by people who I truly look up to. My past experiences, my hardships, and my patience in those times has served as my fuel to uphold myself to a healthy mindset and to treat individuals with respect, appreciation, and compassion. I look forward to the day where I can offer my newfound peace as a beacon of hope to individuals who were once just like me.