I’ve been neglecting the blog. Although I’m sure no one really noticed. Word around journalism town is that blogging is on the decline. It’s all about “the video” now they say: Facebook Live, Instagram Live, Persicope (maybe?) and YouTube. That may be so. Unfortunately, God gave me a desire and a passion to write and a strong dislike for the camera – unless I’m behind it 🙂 . So this will always be my forum of choice until another writing platform emerges. I mean, there are still some of us who love to read, right? I hope.
Anywho, I felt led to share with you all a story I wrote about a single mom of four (Shadina Charles) raising her girls in the face of what seems like insurmountable challenges. It’s a story of sheer determination and will. A story of what it looks like when life tells you “no” but you put your blinders on and push forward with dogged determination.
Throughout my freelancing career, I’ve interviewed many different people from all walks of life – from politicians and elected officials, rabbis and priests, to the voiceless and the homeless. It is perhaps the most fulfilling part of what I do. It gives me a deep sense of purpose to sit with an individual, listen to their story and then tell it by framing it in a way that is both relevant and impactful. Artistically, it’s like an artist painting a portrait – my pen as the paintbrush, their story as the portrait and my mind as the canvass. I love that I come away with a new experience, a new perspective and a new lesson every single time.
But no story has touched me quite like Shadina’s. I first sat with her in March. It was the beginning of Spring but we had just endured a massive snow storm and the entire New York City had been shut down the day before. That morning, I was to meet her at her children’s school at 8:00am. I was late. My son’s school bus hadn’t shown up and so I had to take him to school. Traffic and the streets were chaotic and the frigidity, coupled with dangerous layers of thin ice sheets on the sidewalks, made commuting a nightmare. I called her to postpone our meeting. She had traveled hours from the Bronx to drop her kids off and meet me in Mill Basin, Brooklyn. I didn’t want her waiting around for me in the cold on such a nasty day. But when she informed me she would be spending the day hanging around the neighborhood until her children were dismissed at 3:30pm (because it would be way to difficult to travel back and forth to the Bronx), I decided to keep our appointment. Well, I was an hour late.
When I got there, I was met by a bubbly, warm and welcoming woman with a lively Grenadian accent and the locks to boot. Being Jamaican, I immediately used our Caribbean heritage as a point of connection thus breaking the ice (great interview tactic by the way 😉 ). We hit it off immediately. I talked with her for about two and a half hours – perhaps the longest interview I’ve ever done. Now as a professional, regardless of the situation, I have to remain poker faced and objective but that day the human side of me sat there the entire time fighting back tears. And boy was it a fight…
To be hit by a car twice in the space of two years.
Multiple leg surgeries with long term damage and a limp.
A cancer diagnosis with an extended period of chemotherapy and recovery.
An ongoing struggle with acute bronchitis.
The consequent job loss and homelessness over the years.
All of this with four daughters, two of whom depended on you for their life.
It was too much to sit through. But I did. And I came away having to reevaluate my constant complaining and feeling so entitled – even ungrateful – at times.
But the greatest thing I came away with was a stronger sense of empathy. Quite often we go through life in our own little bubbles, so preoccupied by our own issues, that we sometimes don’t even realize how others are suffering and just how interconnected we all are. While we may be of different races, or live on different ends of the socio-economic spectrum, or have different levels of education, at the core of our humanity we all feel pain and we all have struggle. We all have areas in our life where we may feel like something is punching us in the gut and yet we all have areas where we have great victories. We all have goals. We all have dreams. We all have something we are willing to fight to the death for.
These are the things I look for and try to evoke in each and every person I sit with. But greater than that – to be an effective story teller – in each person I try to find pieces of myself.
See – like Shadina – I too am a single mom. I too have suffered illness and loss and while my son and I have never been homeless, there was a season in our lives where we came pretty close. Like Shadina, as a single mom, I’ve had to fight tooth and nail for my son’s education, for his welfare and even for his health and his life. I know her struggle. I know her determination. I know her love for her babies. I know her hope.
My hope is that you will read this story, see traces of your own life and then walk away with resolve and courage. The kind of courage that makes you wake up at 4:00am every day with a bad leg and a cane and trek your babies across boroughs – four hours each day – just so they can be exposed to something greater than what life (and legislation) tells them they should have access to.
Here’s Shadina’s story. And yours. And mine.