While searching through the pages of my past, I pause when coming to a picture of a small two-bedroom apartment. It is apartment No. 3 in the projects—the very apartment where I began raising my five sons on my own with no help from any family member. In fact, most of the families living in the same projects were classified as low-income households. Imagine the surprise when I encountered neighbors who were high-minded and despite the obvious conditions, believed that they were head and shoulders above the rest. The thought of such a hierarchy among the poor threw me for a loop. Being the newest family to the projects plus being on welfare as an eighteen year old mother of five placed my family on the very bottom of the pile. Any signs of upward movement on my part were met with degrading looks and remarks. I can see the face of one woman in particular. She and I were enrolled in the same class at the local vocational school. One day she took it upon herself to ridicule me in front of the entire class. Ironically, she too was a single black mother with kids, living in the same projects. Evidently, she wanted to make sure that I stayed beneath her.
In addition to the oppressive acts from neighbors, there were the male and female predators who periodically stopped by my apartment unannounced. They wanted my money—what few dollars I had within my possession. They wanted my boyfriends—who turned out to be more interested in alcohol than me. They wanted my time—which as I recall none of them being in any hurry to leave. If all of that was not enough, the older men wanted me. Now keep in mind that these same individuals never frequented my parents’ home. They saw a young inexperienced girl. I was the prey and they seized the opportunity to take advantage of me while I was vulnerable. Remembering all the incidents that occurred while living in the projects, brings me to the realization that an individual should never determine the end based on the start. Many things could have stopped me back then. I also learned that a woman should never assess her worth based on the opinions of others. My start was as an eighteen year old, living on my own in the projects with all five of my sons who ranged in age from one to five. Many days were spent battling my oppressors but I never gave up.
My remaining years in apartment No. 3 included taking in my youngest sister until she graduated from high school and left for college. After nine years I was able to say my goodbyes to the projects and apartment No. 3. At the age of twenty-seven I built and moved into a new house across town with my five sons. By that time, I had earned my GED and obtained two certificates from the local vocational school. Yes, I had lived on welfare at the start but that was only because I had lacked the necessary skills to obtain a decent paying job. My skills were limited because I had not completed my high school education as intended. The unplanned pregnancies put a stop to that. There were black and white people alike that thought because I was a poor single mother with five kids and living in the worst part of the projects that my kids and I would be of little value to society. There were those who wanted us to stay on welfare but I saw it as a stepping stone. Welfare enabled me to become self-sufficient, and I could not wait to get off it. That small two-bedroom apartment—apartment No. 3 to be exact—motivated me and I was determined to have something bigger and better for my growing family. Fast forwarding to the present, only the good Lord knows whether people’s perception of me has changed.