June 22, 2003 - I have these numbers tattooed on me physically and mentally because for me, that night has never gone away. It was the night I was shot; a moment in time that replays in my head constantly; a moment that could have ended my life leaving me eternally eighteen years, three months, twenty-two days, twelve hours, one minute, and thirty seconds old. I was with my best friend and two of our other friends that night. One thing that continues to stand out in my mind is when the doctor walked into my hospital room looked me in my eyes and said, “Wherever you were tonight you shouldn’t have been there. If the bullet had entered one more inch to the left I would have tried to save you but you wouldn’t have made it.”  He also added, “You’re lucky, you should go buy a lotto ticket.” Whether he was being witty or serious, I didn’t go buy a lotto ticket that day because all the money in the world wouldn’t have given me the one thing that money couldn’t buy, my life.

Usually when asked about the night I was shot people say, “Aren’t you angry that this happened to you?” My answer is almost always “No.”  I know in my heart that me and my three my friend’s lives were spared for one simple reason - it wasn’t our time because we had not yet made our mark on the world….

From a very young age I was always curious about how things work, often taking things apart and putting them back together or transforming the Barbie boxes my dolls came in, into scale model homes held together by tape and glue and using the viewing plastic as windows!  As far as I was concerned I was a builder and even at the age of five I would walk around the house with my dad’s tool belt dreaming up my next creation. I was first introduced to architecture by my dad, we would spend our weekends driving around Pasadena admiring all the craftsman homes.  Architecture was my first love and it might always be.

I believe that education is a tool and one of the most powerful weapons that people can possess. Education has the capability to both change and save lives. The change that I want to be for the world it to give the gift of education and the creation of safe spaces to every child because every child deserves a chance to succeed and to feel safe no matter his or her background. I believe that education could have saved me from getting shot that night. What if the shooter had been immersed in school instead of the streets? I struggle almost daily about my calling, and my true purpose in life; and I truly believe that me being shot means that I have responsibility to do my best to keep it from happening to another innocent victim. By creating green spaces where kids can feel connected to each other and most importantly themselves, in an educational space, might be the key.  Education can save lives; and perhaps why mine was spared that night. Now it’s my turn to try and save education.

Having attended Educating Young Minds and meeting the founder, Ms. Echols, really changed the way I thought about learning and education. After I graduated from the program and from high school I knew that one-day I would give back to EYM in any way that I could because it became a part of me in a way that I never imagined. Ms. Echols and the teachers at Educating Young Minds fought for us to do and be better every day. They not only helped us with our academics but they believed in us and our ability to excel. With the help of EYM, I graduated from high school with excellence. I was college bound! A few weeks later, my name called, I stood and walked across the stage of the Hollywood Bowl with all of my sisters of Immaculate Heart High School and received my high school diploma. It was only a few weeks later that a gun toting stranger took a shot at me and changed my life forever.  

Oddly enough most of my thoughts are about my unknown shooter. I wonder what kind of life he had that would drive him to gun down innocent people; we were just kids. I wonder about his family or if he had to resort to the love of a gang to make him feel wanted. I wonder if he had any friends or how he would feel if his sister was a victim of his violence. I wonder if we came face to face that night if it would have made any difference at all. I wonder if he has a heart. I wonder if anyone gave him a chance to succeed?

Three months later I moved 3,000 miles away to pursue my passion and study architecture as the Savannah College of Art and Design. During that time, I was a scholar athlete simultaneously pursuing my first master’s degree. I always kept EYM close to my heart. My senior thesis centered on research of what makes after-school programs successful; coupled with designing a new education center for Educating Young Minds. It was my way of saying thank you. Being a part of the EYM program reaffirmed my ideas about education, its importance, and how even the smallest ideas create change, and can make a difference. I continued my passion for design and higher education and pursued my second masters at the University of Southern California, where I received my graduate degree in Landscape Architecture.  

I grew up in this neighborhood, just a stone’s throw away from EYM. Los Angeles is my heart and my home and have experienced first-hand how a garden transforms the look on young people’s faces. I’ve seen eyes light up when picking tomatoes and oranges, and the smiles that instantly appear when putting hands into dirt.  Being in the landscape is a truly spiritual and emotional experience connecting all beings, rooting us and breathing new life into us.

Creating this California drought friendly garden at EYM will give the kids a chance to learn about sustainability; the beautiful variety of California native plants; will provide a respite from noise and commotion and promote health by creating a peaceful space. It will unify, beautify and set an example in the neighborhood by creating a sense of well-being and belonging. This garden has the potential to create opportunities for inter-generational exposure to culture, the idea being that we can plant tomatoes, herbs, peppers, and have some of the students’ parents and grand-parents participate in the tending and care. This garden is an opportunity to give back to the community I care so deeply about and making greater connections through landscape.  

 “Landscape architecture for me is about making connections, drawing on inspiration from people’s diverse stories and experiences, being authentic, painting pictures, and creating vulnerable and dynamic spaces. I strive to combine the authenticity of human connection, the importance of social justice, and the beauty of the world we all share and call home, to achieve environmental equality for all.”

Ashley Hart, Landscape and Architectural Designer, Educating Young Minds graduate

Thank you for helping me fulfill this dream and passion; it means so much to are greatly appreciated.....
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