I'm so much more than my past. This is ME!

By Brandi Jacobs

I have been trying for months to write the perfect blog and was reluctant as to what I wanted to share. I was scared of being judged based on my past and afraid that writing would open old wounds that I closed years ago. But this is ME! I now know that sharing some of my story will not only expose the mistakes that I’ve made but the things I’ve overcome.

October 1998. It was the month I became a 17-year-old high school dropout. To some this news sounds familiar, and others are likely shocked. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 1998, a little under half of the African American population of teenagers became dropouts; I was one of them. Many believe that youth from low-income families have a higher rate of dropping out of school; this is false. However, the reality is that most dropouts never return to school. I was raised in a single parent middle-class family, and my mother is college-educated. Once I became a dropout, my life spiraled downward. I thought chasing “fast money,” cars, guys, and hanging out with the wrong people made me more valuable as a person. I lost a lot of friends, and people who I thought were my friends because of my poor choices. In my mind, I was “grown,” and no one could tell me anything different. I wanted to be part of the “in crowd" (this is common for most teenagers). My siblings and I were very popular growing up, so I felt I had to maintain that same image. I was dating a known “drug dealer,” who was many years older than me. He made me feel secure, he bought me beautiful things, and he loved me the way I thought I wanted to be loved. I felt like I no longer needed my family, nor did I need to finish school. My life turned around the moment I experienced being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Along with a few other people, we were robbed at gun point, forced to strip, and placed in a bathtub. I could have been killed or hurt very badly. I had never been so afraid in my life! After this I knew I had to change. I knew this was no longer the life I wanted for myself.

Growing up I was very passionate about styling hair. In middle school I began cutting and styling my own hair. I eventually became the go-to hairstylist for my friends and younger cousins. I even styled hair for different people in the neighborhood we lived in. Becoming a licensed hairstylist had always been my dream so I decided to enroll in cosmetology school. When I went to enroll I was told that I had to go back to school to obtain my high school diploma or GED. I never thought I would get to a place of having to return to the place I never wanted to be. August of 2001 was the first time I completed the GED exam and failed. I was so upset with myself because anyone who has ever taken the GED exam knows that if you fail two or more parts, you are required to complete the entire exam over. That was me! I made up all the excuses and doubted myself of why I refused to retest. After being told that the test was changing, I knew that I would need to retake it before the year ended. On December 31, 2001 I retook the exam and passed! I went on to successfully complete the program at Kenneth Shuler Cosmetology and Nail Design school. Although I completed Cosmetology school I knew that I needed a new and long term career plan so I decided to enroll into college. I just knew I wanted to succeed at something. Since then I have earned an Associates degree from Midlands Technical College in Public Service and Paralegal Studies. I have also earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Criminal Justice, and I am now pursuing a Master’s Degree in Adult Education and Development.

I now know that I do not have to feel ashamed when I think of or speak about my past; our past makes us who we are. I hope to one day mentor other girls and help them realize the same thing. I want to show them that even if you’ve made bad choices you can still be anything you want to be. I hope to teach them what I’ve learned through each of my experiences... to never give up, know that you have a voice, and that you matter. I want them to feel supported in knowing that they have someone they can trust, someone who can relate to them, and someone who will encourage and guide them to dream bigger and accomplish more than they could imagine. I want to be that someone for them.

“It’s not how you start, but it’s how you finish.” -Michael Phelps

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