Ashley Land- Chicago, Illinois
Class of 2016
Growing up on the south side of Chicago where bullets seemed to soar across the sky as often as snowflakes in a winter storm - that was everyday survival. It may seem like the odds were all against me, but I think the odds have a funny way of working out.
One vivid memory I have from my childhood is when I got bullied in school. I went to my neighborhood elementary school, which was predominately African American, until about fourth grade, because I had gotten bullied so badly. I always had a yearning to learn, and other kids would tease me for being proper, calling me an “Oreo”—one girl even spit in my face, put gum on my chair, and pulled out my hair. I guess I was such a threat to them that they decided to attempt take all of my dignity until I felt as low as they did when they were in school. The catch is that I was already feeling low.
My parents were going through their separation and I felt horrible. They would argue and fight frequently and it would make me really sad. I thought if I had been a little bit quieter while playing, or if I didn’t give my mom any problems, or if I just got good grades, then they would stay together. It didn’t work, but while problems were going on at home, I used school as my outlet. I got straight A’s almost every quarter and all of my teachers loved me. Then I got some unexpected news.
My mom was pregnant with my baby brother, by her new boyfriend, who in my perspective could never be my dad. I was excited because I had been an only child for years, but when my brother finally came, I didn’t get the big happy family I was expecting. I was really jealous of my brother for a couple of months because I felt like he was getting all of the attention, but he would soon need all of my attention.
My mom and her boyfriend started fighting and arguing so much and after they separated my mom would go out often, mostly working to keep us alive. She would leave us with my grandma, and eventually I began to babysit my brother, while simultaneously missing out on a multitude of school events and group outings with my friends. It made me so irritated that I had to be the adult even though I didn’t want to. I wanted to go out with my friends; I wanted to be a teenager. I had never fit in with my friends in elementary school so when I got to my diverse, academically challenging, yet sociable high school, I never wanted to go home. I know now that ultimately my mom did what was best for my brother and I, and all of the goals I have accomplished in my life would not be without her. My dad has also always encouraged me as well, even though he couldn’t always financially support me, which sometimes was very frustrating and disappointing.
So I guess there was a silver lining at the end for me after all. I have overcome many struggles in my life; I couldn’t always get the toys and clothes I wanted, I had to deal with my mom and dad separating, I was bullied, I was upset, I was frustrated with my life, but look at where I am now. I attend one of the best colleges in the country. I am a Quest Scholar. I have tons of people who love and support me. I have the opportunity to live, to love, to have a fulfilling life. I have all the resources in the world. The odds may have been all against me, but I think that I won anyway.