In a recent post I wrote about how much I spent in a week in New York City, and it was not a little bit of money. For some reason I feel the need to explain that it was not always this way and I worked extremely hard against a number of odds to even be here. I always had big dreams. I wanted to travel the world and get out of the small town I grew up in, in Durham, North Carolina. I had an amazing childhood and though I never wanted for anything, I saw my mother and my family struggle. My mom had me when she was just 17 years old but she still managed to graduate from high school with honors. She was and still is so smart and determined to be the best at everything she does. I definitely got my gusto and guile from her. At one point my mother, my aunties, their children and I, all lived in my grandma’s 2 bedroom apartment in the projects. It was cramped but I loved being around my family. My family is pretty tight knit and not everyone has that. I was one of the first in my family to go to college. The first to go to graduate school and the first to get a doctorate degree.
[one_half padding=”0 15px 0 0″]I put myself through college. I depended on loans and scholarships and grants. My family couldn’t contribute much but when they could they most certainly did. What I may have lacked in money, I more than had in love and support. My grandma was a co-signer on a loan for a new car. While I was in undergrad and graduate school my dad paid my cell phone bill. He also drove the 7 hour drive from North Carolina to New York City when I was homesick and couldn’t make it home for Thanksgiving, just to bring me home cooked meals and a few pies he’d baked for me to share with my classmates. My mom was a beacon of moral support calling me everyday the first year I lived in New York. I also think she was kind of scared for me after 9/11. I took to carrying a box cutter everywhere I went and walked with it in my hand most nights after work to my dorm. We were discouraged from getting jobs while in Physical Therapy School, but I had no other choice.[/one_half][one_half_last padding=”0 0 0 15px”]I had gotten a few scholarships and loans but there was never enough money left over for basic things like food. I ended up getting a part-time job at Forever 21 in Union Square. I worked upwards of 20-25 hours a week while going to Physical Therapy Graduate School at NYU full-time. When my advisor found out I had a job she called me into her office and was furious. I must note that I was the only black person in my class of 42 students. I explained to her that my family contribution was zero and without a job I couldn’t survive. It was then that she made a few calls to get me some more grants but I still kept my job. I was making decent grades in school but I suffered because I didn’t have enough time to study. I’d study during my lunch breaks at work in the cramped break room or at 2am, when I’d get back from closing the store. That store gets so messy, we often didn’t leave until 1am after re-organizing everything.[/one_half_last]
Photography by Rose Lazard || Editing by Monroe Steele
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My aunt saved me. I don’t know if she knows but she was my saving grace during that first year of graduate school. She had set it up so that every time she got paid, $20 would be auto-debited from her account and go into mine. I swear some weeks that was the only money I had to my name. I’d wait for that $20 to hit my account just to buy some food that wasn’t ramen. New York is a hard place to live on minimum wage. Honestly without the support of my family and the first great friend I made in Physical Therapy School, another black girl a year ahead of me, I would have been lost. I wouldn’t have made it. She opened her family and her friends to me when I had no one here. If there was a family dinner, I was always invited. I made a lot of friends through work and church and slowly built a support system.
I’m still paying off my student loans and probably will be forever. But none of it came easy. I literally went broke to obtain a degree, which is why I will never give it up. If I have to use it to fund my dreams, so be it. I can still hear my grandmother, calling me Dr. Steele. She’s the only person I ever let call me that. I know the people, places and things God placed in my life so that I could get to this place. Just know that anything you want, you can have. The only limits to what you can do, are those that are self imposed. I get a lot of messages, comments and emails from people who say I inspire them. That makes me very happy, but what you see is the highlight reel. None of this came easy, and I’m still learning and growing everyday. To the women out there struggling to find their passion, struggling to take care of their children, struggling to survive I commend you and I’m a testament to what can be done when you truly believe there are no limits to what you can do and accomplish in this life.