This entry comes from Nakesia Thomas, a woman we served in May 2013. Nakesia (Keesha) is not only working hard to rise out of poverty, herself; she is starting a nonprofit organization to help children gain a larger perspective on life. This is, in her own words, a bit about Keesha and her life:
I was born in 1981 and I became a grown woman by the age of 8 years old. I didn’t really know how to take good care of myself, yet I knew how to survive. Being a young black child going from middle class to poverty, I always wondered, ‘why do the poor get treated so bad?’
I can remember when my life really changed.
I had a loving mom and a big sister. My Dad would come around from time to time, but not to visit me. He loved my big sister and did not care for me much. Once drugs entered my parents’ lives, my dad became violent to my sister and all of his on-and-off girlfriends. I watched.
My mom had more kids and I became their maid. I was constantly taking care of the kids, cooking, cleaning, and taking them to school (even if it made me late). I had to give up of my meal portions to them if we were low on food.
My grandmother was born in 1922. She was forbidden to attend school past the sixth grade. As a result, she was under-educated. She had her own residential cleaning business but was living in poverty. She worked every day, all day, to take care of her children. She came home to prepare dinner and go to bed then back to work. My mom never learned to cook from my grandmother, so she never cooked for me. I learned to cook at my dad’s house with my sister.
My big sister lived with my dad. I had to learn the metro route to his house because he would never come to visit me. I was only welcomed by my sister in my dad’s house. So, if I became hungry she would be the person I would run to ask for something to eat. She would get tired of looking out for me from time to time. One day, she began to cook a burger and I started watching and learning. I got most of my guidance from her.
At the age of 15, I was forced to work to provide for myself. My sister and I wanted a normal teen age life. One Friday night, we were scheduled to attend a party together. She went while I was still working, and she never returned home. She was 16, and her body was found in the woods raped, strangled, and beaten to death. Her death changed my life. I began to feel alone and had to find my way through life, guiding myself.
I have worked hard to get the education that I possess. Getting back and forth to school, (sometimes with an empty stomach) was a difficult task. I would get chastised for not being on time, not having materials, and not having the parental support. When I was a teen I wanted to go to college, but my mom and dad did not agree and they would not allow me to use their tax return documents. Disappointed and discouraged, I dropped out of Duke Ellington Visual Art School after the family fell apart. I just could not see a future for myself. A year later, though, I obtained a GED and have been studying to better myself since.
I tried to stay strong and take care of our little siblings. Unfortunately, I failed and CPS took my little sister and brother out of my home and left me. With the kids gone, my mom did not want me around so she kicked me out.
Over the years I have made mistakes seeking a career that will help me survive financially. My parents did not support me furthering my education, or just did know how to show their support. I made the decision to work until I was considered an independent from my parents. I started delivering pizzas. Then, I worked as an assistant manager and delivery driver for Ben & Jerry’s. I have worked for CSX, and DAR Constitution Hall while being homeless. At age 21, I finally moved into my first apartment. That was when I decided to try to get more education than the GED that I had. I enrolled in Computer school.
The teacher did not want to teach so his instructions were to read the book and do the exercises in the back of the chapters. I completed the book and had to beg to take the certification test. My teacher told me that he did not think I would pass, but I did. After completing the course and passing the test I could not land a job in the field. I did research and found out that we (the poor) are not getting quality education. I was not even being educated in the most up-to-date Microsoft Office system. Disgusted with the fact that I had wasted time studying something that I could not use, I wanted to give up.
I went back to working only. I became a cook for Old Ebbit grill, Levi Diamond Club, and Red Lobster. I obtained the Food Handlers Certification to make myself more marketable.
I gave birth to my son, and he was sickly. I lost my job due to constant illness and hospital visits. I was upset and decided to try to be a valued employee so I would not get laid off so ruthlessly. I then joined the Mid Atlantic Carpentry Union. I worked and studied as a carpenter apprentice. After two years, I was injured at work. My injury restricts me from lifting over 10 pounds and I will not be able to carry a child and give birth again. I am sad about that. Once again I was fired, and they are fighting me in court for worker’s compensation.
I just wanted medical insurance from the company so that I could heal and work again. I want to be able to support myself and my only child. I am all that he has to support him. Poverty is not what I wish for my son’s life. I live in what the police call a war zone, and my son’s father has abandoned him because of the danger of visiting my home. I have tried to seek child support, but the company seems not to be able to find him. I don’t know what else to do, so I started thinking about how I can make a change for the youth that might have a story like mine.
I have now dedicated myself to bettering my community, helping the teens in my community find a positive solution to their situations, and helping the younger children with nutrition, academics, and recreational outings. Thomas Rewards is the name of the community outreach organization that I plan to open. I would like to make it a nonprofit children’s outreach organization. I believe that no child should be hungry, neglected, abused, unguided, or misled. Thomas Rewards will take children ages 4 through 14 on outings to other neighborhoods to give a visual of what a community can be like, teach the children basic cold food preparation, and expose the children to various career paths with professional guidance. All adults have to do their part to make it better for the youth coming behind them.
Nakesia Thomas, Founder, Thomas Rewards