Along with admission to Scheller, I have received a partial tuition scholarship, and am seeking assistance to supplement the remaining expense. We are extremely nervous, excited and optimistic about what this new journey will hold for our family and are eternally grateful for all of the love and support we have received.
Thank you in advance for your generosity in helping us to reach new heights. As a token of that gratitude, I would like to share with you my story. This is the personal essay that I submitted to the program, and that I hope will resonate with many of you.
I come from a long line of women of great sacrifice- RosaLee, Mable, Bernadine, Denise. For as far back as I know, and surely even further, there have been strong women putting themselves last.
RosaLee raised Mable, in 1920s Louisiana, while the Caucasian father ignored the baby’s existence.
When Mable’s husband deployed during WWII, she abandoned her culinary aspirations to provide for her children, taking a job as a naval ship welder.
Her daughter, Bernadine was swept off her feet by a charming man who promised her the world. She devoted her life to raising her two children after she vacated, what became a severely toxic relationship.
And when my dad walked out, my mother, Denise, worked three jobs to keep the lights on and the mortgage paid.
I can remember how she’d use the stove to heat our bath water when the gas was shut off. I remember the two full months she stayed awake every night, crying from exhaustion, detangling my hair after a chemical lice shampoo had turned it into a single dreadlock. Despite others’ attempt to persuade her, she refused to “just cut it off.”
“Little Black girls at all White schools need their hair. I won’t do that to her.”
I always knew the kind of woman I wanted to be--the quintessential powerhouse. Successful. Impactful. Revered. Taking heed to their cautionary tales, I vowed to live life differently.
So, when I was hired at the PG&E call center immediately out of college, and a colleague enthusiastically congratulated me on the acquisition of my role, I struggled to feel accomplished. “After all,” he said, “this is a great gig for a Black single mother, with no education.”
I swallowed hard. Damn.
As a bright-eyed undergrad, I dreamed of moving to the city and starting my own company. Then…I fell madly in love.
I made him the center of my universe, but despite my attempts to meet every expectation, I was never enough.
It was like sitting in a bathtub, where the water temperature increased so gradually that I finally boiled to death before my body ever detected the change. Subtle scare tactics, expressed “preferences” and egregious acts of betrayal all effectively diluted my sense of self.
In my fifth year of college, I stood looking down at a stick striped with two blue lines. It was difficult to celebrate the miracle of conception knowing that the life I had planned was gone.
As a result of my commitment to providing my son with a unified family, I fought to keep my family intact. But we were living no fairytale. Consumed by depression, my academic performance suffered.
How had I become this girl?
After graduation, I came to realize that together is not always better. The fear that once paralyzed me loosened its grip and I vacated the relationship.
If you ask my mother, her mother or her mother’s mother what matters most to her, each will tell you it’s her children. To prevent my child from bearing the burden of my poor choices, I remained diverted from my professional aspirations, prioritizing motherhood.
As I reflect on my life and what fuels me, it has always been my appetite for excellence.
Recently, my 7-year-old sat counting the earnings from his first business venture and mentioned his plan to save $50,000. When I asked what for, he responded, “I’m going to buy you your own business, so you can be your own boss like me.”
My eyes welled up at his incredible willingness... to sacrifice.
I asked Eric how he’d feel if things were different for a while--if mom went back to school to become what she always wanted to be. His emotional hug told me, “proud.”
I’ve realized that the pursuit of my dreams is actually aligned with my prioritization of motherhood. It’s redirecting my sacrifice to create the life that he deserves, in the way we decide.
He will know that anything is attainable through hard work and that you can, and should, bet on yourself. He’ll grow up understanding the importance of staying true to yourself and forging your own destiny.
Sacrifice is in our heritage, but so is tenacity, strength, and triumph. RosaLee. Mable. Bernadine. Denise…and now Eric. They are my “why.” My divergence will not only dismantle the generational cycle, but serve as reparation for their sacrifices. I dedicate my triumph to the people who make me proud to be who I am. I dedicate this to the millions of little Black girls who have and who will sacrifice, and with this MBA, I will work tirelessly to ensure that less of them have to.
I am Shannell Smith, single mother, product of sacrifice--future MBA.
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