When I was a little kid I spent a lot of time in the back seat of my parents’ half-broke-down cars speeding around the winding, mountainous roads of West Virginia as my mom and dad hustled drugs in the HUD-funded projects, trailer parks and the clapboard houses that dotted the depressed streets and kudzu covered hollows of our bleak area of Appalachia. I hated these trips where the blaring sounds of AC/DC and the Eagles mixed with the carcinogenic air filled with cigarette and pot smoke.
Despite my dislike of these trips there was one positive that came out of them. It was during these lonely times that my love of learning and reading took root.
My grandmother gave me a flashlight and I would pour over my homework and my stacks of library books: The Bobbsey Twin series, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Where the Sidewalk Ends. These books showed me that there was so much magic beyond my sad, little world in the back seat of that car.
Furthermore, my grades reflected the hours spent studying and reading. I reveled in the praise of my teachers and my grandfather – whom had pushed education from a young age. And, he, knowing that my parents were not concerned with sending me to college, set up a college fund so that I could continue my education free from the worry of student loans.
When my grandfather died when I was 14 I inherited this college fund – which had grown to a sizable amount. It was more than enough to cover four years at most any public college.
I kept this money for exactly two days.
My parents, whom were in the midst of a lawsuit after my father’s hand was mangled in a wench on a commercial fishing boat (the only legal job he ever held), forced me to sign the money over to them with the promise that they would pay me back with interest when they received the money from their settlement. They also promised to pay back, again with interest, all the money they were draining from my grandmother’s savings.
Less than six months after my grandfather’s passing, my parents did receive a settlement of approximately $775,000.00. However, before they “got around” to reestablishing my college fund or paying my grandmother back they were both arrested by federal agents for attempting to buy a large quantity of narcotics from an undercover officer.
All of their assets were frozen and they were both sentenced to prison for the majority of my high school career.
My grandmother adopted my brother, sister and me and took a job at Payless Shoes.
Despite her determined, tireless efforts there was no way that she could support a family with her depleted savings and a minimum wage job. We quickly spiraled into poverty. I was ashamed and embarrassed of, well, of everything. I went slightly off the rails and began drinking, partying and skipping school. The only subjects that I kept A’s in were English and Journalism.
However, I never lost sight of going to college. I just didn’t have a plan as how I was going to accomplish it.
Fortunately, my Journalism and English teachers and my ever-diligent guidance counselor continued to believe in me despite my questionable decision making at that time. They nominated me for the William and Jean Swales Scholarship at West Virginia University. The scholarship was for tuition, room and board and text books and it was given to one student a year who needed financial assistance and showed academic promise.
After the grueling essay and nerve wracking interview processes, I was sick with worry. However, it didn’t take long to find out – the kid who read all those books in the backseat of the car was going to college.
I attribute much of my drive to those books I read in the back seat of cars. Those books taught me to dream and assured me that there was much more to the world than what I was witnessing.
That is why books are so important to me. It is why it is paramount to me that all children be exposed to books. Had I not been fortunate enough to have grandparents and aunts and uncles who gave me books I may have accepted that life was little more than drugs and hustling.
I want kids to know of a world beyond the often-depressing walls that surround them.
And, that is why I believe in the mission of Promising Pages. Promising Pages helps kids like me, they believe in kids like me, they want to ensure that kids like me receive the tools that give them the confidence to dream big – to know there is a way out.
Promising Pages’ mission is to level the playing field and offer all kids a fair shot at life by giving them the tools they need to succeed at an early age. They are hosting a book sale Saturday, March 28 at the Harris YMCA. For more information, visit them at www.promisingpages.com. And to read more about Sosha’s life and how her love of learning began, read part one of her post: Why Books Matter to Me.