I stand before you today as someone who has throughout my life been categorized by B’s, broken, bruised, bullied, belittled, bewildered. I refuse to claim those negative descriptors that have tainted my experience. I stand boldly today, as a young lady, who has risen beyond my circumstances. The traumatic events in my life, physical and sexual abuses, the death of my mother, not knowing my father and bullied in school have helped unleash the greatness within me. It is scary, but I am empowered to do it anyway.
I see myself as a young lady who is determined, ambitious, amazing, awesome, aspiring, adaptive, astute, and alive who sought better for myself. As such, one day I can take control of my life, and I deserve better so, I planned my escape. But, the years that followed were miserable, and sometimes I didn’t even want to be alive. Continuous bullying, involvement in volatile relationships, feeling of isolation and hopelessness, I was still trapped.
When I got to my second year in college, my health failed, because of drugs and all the emotions from my past and present got mixed up into a terrifying mess. Then and there I decided I never wanted to experience this again. A voice in my head said, “you can make it.” I pondered and thought about how? I’m homeless, I have no job, and I don’t know where to turn. I motivated myself and enrolled back into college. I convinced myself no matter what, I am getting a degree this time. Those words encouraged me, and I started school in last year.
While in college, I visited different emergency shelters. I stayed at one for as long as I could, I felt lost, but this was not my first time facing disappointments, so I got connected with a caseworker at the drop-in center who told me about Sasha Bruce Youthwork Inc. Independent Living Program. At first, I was so scared to talk to the staff and express what was going on because I’ve been silent so long. Eventually I felt safe to talk to them, and I explained why I was there and needed help. Without Sasha Bruce, I would be in those drug-infested streets and another string of abusive relationships. Since being at Sasha Bruce Independent living program, I have regained confidence in myself and my future.
With staff support, ILP became the best place for me to thrive and grow. ILP staff worked tirelessly to make sure I felt safe in my new environment. I was able to finish my semester without worrying about where I will sleep or a structured place and time to study. They give me guidance on controlling my life and being proud of what I will accomplish now and after Sasha Bruce. I am supported by an individual tutor, Mr. Patten, who has helped me with my writing and finding scholarships to fund the summer semester of school, for which I am grateful.
At ILP, we have groups and workshops that help me with financial management, employment readiness, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and overall independent living skills. The workshops taught me to understand my goals and make a plan and achieve it. The individual and group support I receive is what I needed to keep my spirit up in time of doubt. I am proud to say I am happier and more confident. Sasha Bruce helped me become a strong and independent woman that knows what I want and what to do to accomplish my goals. Sasha Bruce is the turning point in the new journey of my life.
I want to say thank you to all the wonderful donors who have supported Sasha Bruce Youthwork to help homeless youth like me survive and thrive. I want to say thank you to the University of the District of Columbia, for helping me to achieve my highest level of potential. I want to thank the District of Columbia for all the support we receive. Thank you so much, Sasha Bruce, for helping me believe in me. You are all appreciated with a special place in my heart.
Monique Fernandez – speech at National Building Museum April 17, 2019