When I tell people a mentoring program saved my life in high school, I mean just that.
As a freshman in high school, I had a slew of problems. I was intensely quiet. People in my 9thgrade catholic school thought I was either mute or from another country (read: didn’t speak English) because I was so quiet and rarely engaged. I had few friends. They knew I could talk. Along with my Italian teacher who made it a point to call on me every minute she could. I’m not sure if she could tell I was suffering inside or if she saw something in me, but whatever the matter, that was where I felt most at home and comfortable. I felt at ease allowing the unfamiliar words and syllables to glide over my tongue.
Besides the shyness and refusal to speak, my self esteem was in the gutter. I didn’t have confidence. I didn’t believe in myself. When I wore braids, I’d let them hang in front of my face in efforts to hide myself from the world. It was as if the extensions would prevent people from seeing me, rendering me invisible and able to glide through life without being seen or touched or bothered. I hated myself. Looking in the mirror, I saw a girl who couldn’t do anything right, who was suffering in silence.
When I tell people that a mentoring program saved my life, I mean just that. My freshman year, I was depressed, lonely, and suicidal. By the end of my freshman year, I had had a few attempts. One of which, my mom interrupted unbeknownst to her after finding a journal I accidentally left open proclaiming my hatred for self and suicidal ideations. Being from the west indies, I get it. We don’t and didn’t openly talk about mental health issues. I know now that she is much more knowledgeable about such but back then, I doubt she understood it. But I can imagine the helplessness she felt. Her only daughter feeling a pain she couldn’t understand, so much so that the only thing that seemed right was to take her life. I’ve never looked at it from a mother’s point of view but as an adult I reflect on what could have been. Had I succeeded that would have broken my mother. Completely.
I’m not sure how it came about but I imagine the universe aligned in ever a way to rescue me from myself. A friend at work told my mom about this mentoring program towards the end of my freshman year. The program was for young black teens, young girls. This program was put on by the sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. Specifically a graduate chapter in the Bronx. It had been up and running for several years and continues to do so until this day.
When I tell people that that mentoring program saved my life, I mean just that. Looking back, I see the transformation. I entered that program unable to speak publicly, unwilling and unbelieving of compliments or my ability to achieve or do well at something. No confidence in who I was. By the time that program was done with me, I had transformed. Not into someone new, but into the person that had been there under all of that baggage. Under the depression, the self loathing, the fear, and the anger. While I still had some ways to go, this program set me on the right path. I’d built enough love for myself that I had become strong enough to fight the urge to end my life, I became strong enough to fight for my life. I went from silent student to outgoing, willing to try anything. I auditioned for several sports teams, I joined a few clubs, I excelled in my courses, and my teachers couldn’t get me to shut up. As cliché as it sounds, I bloomed like a butterfly emerging from a long and arduous metamorphosis. I would not have been able to do that, had it not been for that program. While my specific beliefs may waver, I truly believe that God saw I was hurting. And she gave me what I needed, what could work at that moment.
So when I tell people that a mentoring program for a tired, depressed, suicidal teenage black girl saved my life, I mean just that.