Imagine this. You are brought into this world by “mistake”. Your mother is young, into drugs, and ill herself. She has made a lifetime of bad choices but she decides that she is going to make one good choice, and that is to let you live. You wonder your entire life, why? Why after all she did she decided to give me the gift of life when she didn’t have to? But you can never ask her because right after you were born, she passed away. You were left with nothing, sick, and had almost no chance at a good life. But then two people step into your life, two unsuspecting angels who will change you and give you your chance. You are given a chance at life, but you still don’t know your purpose. You were born premature and drug addicted, a little baby thrown into a spiraling world of unknowns and adventures far beyond your understanding. As you grow up you have to learn that just because your different, doesn’t make you less of a person. Growing up as an African American child in a white family is hard, sometimes even embarrassing because you don’t understand why, you just know this is your normal. Kids laugh, they ask questions, and they make you feel like your world isn’t what it should be. But as you grow older you start to understand, things finally start to come into place and even though your life has been a crazy ride you are finally strapped in and ready to take it on full force. Then you wake up, you open your eyes and you realize, this isn’t a story, this isn’t a book, or a dramatic movie that you sit and eat popcorn while watching. This isn’t a story you read in the paper about someone else, this is your life. As heartbreakingly beautiful and real as you, this is YOUR life.
I started getting into photography in April, 2007 and took an instant love to it. My health was great and I was in the prime, happy and free to discover and find new things! The fact that I could hold something so simple in my hands and create memories, captures, and details of time stunned me. It felt so natural and I didn’t need anyone to validate the fact that I had a gift, because in my heart, I knew. This was what I was made to do. It was like another piece of my puzzle had finally fit into place, but I knew there was more. These moments in time that I was able to capture could do more then I could ever imagine and so my mind started racing, dreaming, and creating these ideas that somehow I had to make a reality. I decided I wanted to start this organization for people who wanted to also share their talents, their dreams, and there own gifts with children and families who really need that gift of a memory. “You’re only 15” or “You’re not even a professional” were just some of the things people told me when I poured out my ideas and my dreams for my organization. I didn’t even have a name for it, but I knew that somehow I would make it happen. And I did. Somehow that 15 year old, not professional, who didn’t have a chance at life created an organization on her own that has now grown into something big. For 6 years I poured my heart and soul into giving back through my art and it was rewarding in so many ways. After a year of just feeling “off” and not being able to keep up, I sadly had to close down the organization, as my own health was now back in focus. After many routine blood tests coming back with mixed results and my doctors here growing concerned, I took a trip to Mayo Clinic in the November of 2013 where 3 of the nations top doctors reviewed my medical files from the past 10 years and took time and energy to look into why my body was feeling the way it was and why I was no longer feeling like myself. After a week in MN I came home diagnosed with 2 different Autoimmune Diseases, Ankylosing Spondylitis and IBD with the possibility of others. Life long treatments began with rounds of Remicade and MTX (Chemotherapy) and therapy in January of 2014.
I have had the odds stacked against me my entire life. But I haven’t let those numbers, the color of my skin, or the age on my birth certificate keep me from doing what I love and sharing my story with those who need uplifting. I look back on my life so far and have to wonder, if I could have changed something and had all of these challenges taken away, would I? I don’t know what my answer would have been when I was younger, but today I know it would be no. Every challenge, hardship, and bump in the road has gotten me to where I stand today. Today I face the realization that I again, am going to lose the people I call “mom” and “dad”. My adoptive parents are now in there 70’s and 90’s and life is slowly slipping away from them. I am living everyday with Autoimmune Diseases that effect the way my entire body works. Everyday I wake up and instead of being scared, instead of being consumed in anger and hurt I am filled with happiness and gratitude knowing that I have been blessed with one more day. I do yoga, swim, walk, and stay active despite being told one day I may not even walk. I think of all of the lives I have touched and I am overwhelmed with joy and appreciation. Life happens when you’re not looking, it’s what you do with the aftermath is what shapes you as a person.
It’s amazing how much living I have packed into 25 years of life. Some moments it feels like it’s been forever and other moments it feels like my life hasjust started. I have learned a lot in 25 years, through the good times and the bad. I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life, even if they were in your life for such a short time. I’ve learned that having two moms, one in heaven and one on earth doesn’t make me weird, it makes me blessed. I’ve learned that “making a living” is not the same thing as making a life. I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that people who care about you will ALWAYS be there, no matter when and no matter what. And I’ve learned that I am loved now until forever up above and here on earth, and everyday I’m here I can do my best to give that love back.
Handmade blankets and packages of love: