A FEW YEARS AGO, I HAD the distinct good fortune and wonderful opportunity to be in a position of mentoring a young black woman in her early 20s who's now finishing up a college degree in nursing at MTSU. Her crack-addict mother had died of an over-dose in Arizona ten years ago, and her father---whom she's met only twice---has been in federal prison in California most of her life. For all intense and purposes, she's had most of life's cards stacked against her. The whole deck, in fact, except for one miraculous thing: A loving grandmother who stepped in to raise her when there was no one else to do the job. I'm convinced this relationship is by the Grace of God. It is through her grandmother, Helen, that I've become acquainted with the young woman I'll henceforth refer to as T.
T's younger sister is not so fortunate. A high school dropout, welfare recipient and part-time waitress, she began a life of sexual acting out with immature, irresponsible black 'men' in the town where she lives in her early teenage years. She now has a couple of children that have no real father, no money and an estranged, unstable lifestyle. Her bitterness and desperation are palpable to her family whom she has kicked out of her life. T's younger sister's future looks bleak. Short of a miracle, her life will probably follow the trajectory of her late drug-addicted mother.
When I first met T over three years ago, she too was waitressing, but she was also struggling in her first semester of college. She was tangled up and living with a young, irresponsible black man whom she was supporting both financially and sexually. Together they had run up a huge satellite TV bill---over a thousand dollars---after signing a scam contract with a very disreputable, unscrupulous salesman who had taken advantage of them through the fine print. As the bill collectors closed in, T's boyfriend fled home to mama leaving T in horrible emotional turmoil and dire financial straits. T couldn't pay her bills but was responsible enough to commit herself to getting through this and doing the right thing--whaevert the right thing was, she wasn't sure of yet---with or without the boyfriend.
Sometime during this emotional mayhem, I entered T's life after hearing the sordid details from Helen. T began to call me on my cell phone regaling me with the details of her drama. I listened as best I could and when asked what I thought, I told her in no uncertain terms.
T, I said, you're at a very important crossroad in your life, do you know that? And what you do with this crisis will determine your course for a long time to come. Are you aware of that, my dear?
She said she emphatically understood the answer to both my questions was YES! She further assured me she was now willing to do whatever it would take to free herself from the bondage she felt was closing in on her. I liked this woman. She appeared to have spunk and determination, but I hadn't known her long enough to know whether she was willing to put her determination into sustained actions. To put her money where her mouth was.
T, I said, are you pregnant? And do you know what will happen if you do get pregnant?
T assured me she was not pregnant, thank goodness! and that she wanted to break-up with her live-in. We started talking about the two main problems of her life: her sexual problem and her financial problem and how they were inexorably linked. She agreed if she wasn't willing to give up her boyfriend who she described as 'draining her' and 'going nowhere in life,' she too would end up going no where even faster, because she would be the one who would end up supporting herself and whatever children would inevitably come if she stayed in a sexual relationship with him. While she said she was afraid of giving him up, even as she admitted she was afraid for her life at times, T actually broke up with him over the next few months. It wasn't easy, but as she began to get free of him, she embraced a life of abstinence for the first time in a very long time.
T began to see how this thing call abstinence freed up her energy to confront her other looming financial problems. She began to experience first-hand that she was still a somebody even though she wasn't sleeping with her boyfriend anymore. As she focused on paying off her bills, she began working two jobs and slowly paying down her balances. It took a few months of total focus and dedication to do this, but as she did, T became encouraged by how well she felt about herself and her new-found financial responsibility. Though I wouldn't step in to bail this young woman out---and she did ask--I did throw in a little money in the end. She later thanked me for not bailing her out quickly so she could struggle with the consequences of her various choices.