For the first nine years of my education, I attended nine different schools across two states. Always a “new kid,” I was laughed at and bullied. No one talked to me, I did not do or wear things, the “right” way or the “cool” way. Along with experiencing loneliness; I felt shame and doubt about who I was. These experiences helped shape my character as an independent and confident adult. As I look back now, even though my mother and I were considered poor we always got by. We did not have to worry about being turned away or discriminated against because of the color of our skin. Finding a job and a new place to live would have been very difficult to obtain had we been people of color.
My parents divorced when I was one-year-old. My mother left my father because of his alcoholism and its impact on our family system. Given my closeness to my paternal grandmother, from age one until age 11 my father was a periphery figure in my life. At 11 years old I was involved in a drunk driving incident with him and as a result my mother chose to end his and my relationship. There was no contact with him going forward. This was one of what would be many times my mother would provide me with a safety net. Having a parent on my side as a child had tremendous impact in my life. My mother advocated for my rights to be free from harm and for that I am eternally grateful.
When I turned 29 I had many unanswered questions and wanted to learn more about the void I felt on my father’s side of my life. Although I had no idea where he was, I chose to search for him. Through the help of a private investigator I found him. By way of that meeting, and through subsequent interaction I delved into my father’s history further. Knowing he had had two children in a prior relationship I searched for my half-siblings. After a six-year period had passed, I found them.
Soon after, the three of us learned there were two more half-siblings that none of us had known about from subsequent relationships. Just like that—my family seemed to grow overnight. Finding my half-siblings, and most specifically one of my half-brothers, have been some of the greatest gifts of my life. At this time I do not have any relationship with my father, but I am overjoyed at the way my life has unfolded by way of his footprint on the world. I recognize my privilege in having the means and access to find my half-siblings.
Almost four years ago, I chose to leave a seventeen-year corporate career and began volunteering for a local organization serving youth in marginalized neighborhoods around Los Angeles. Knowing community service was an important part of exploring my potential, and already being an ally for and advocate to the LGBTQ community, I sought out opportunities to strengthen my allyship. After learning more about the hardship and violence experienced by the transgender community, I volunteered with the Transgender Economic Empowerment Program (TEEP) at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, hoping my knowledge in corporate human resources had the potential to be of value to this underserved community. Having a supportive partner has allowed me to solely focus on graduate school, while also to volunteer and give back. Having a partner who believes in me as fiercely as he does is a blessing. I never take his gifts for granted.
While my family circumstances during childhood led me to begin a new school almost every year, I did not see the value of a college education until late in life. After numerous failed attempts, it took a part-time adjunct community college instructor to influence me so deeply that a world of opportunity in learning finally opened up before my eyes. While adulthood would lead me across three states and a multitude of colleges, I was resolute in seeing my higher education through to earning a bachelor’s degree and graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in the mid-2000s. Would I have been as encouraged by the instructor had I been a person of color? While I like to believe that is the case, I am unable to say that it would be with any real confidence.
Now at graduate school in my mid-40s, over a decade after receiving my Bachelor’s degree, I have thought much about my educational path in life and about my role in its creation. The field of social work has allowed me to see that a person’s trajectory is not always so clear cut. I believe I have created my life, yet, I also believe my identities, whether race, gender or class have both been roadblocks and guideposts along the way.