Chapter 1: From the Holler

In the summer of 2013 I began to face my fears of speaking in public about politics, religion, and poverty as they pertained to some of my experiences living in southern West Virginia. My biggest fear was speaking in public. I was taught to not argue with anyone especially about politics, the Bible, and about being poor. We were taught to not get involved with politics at all. That was just a norm. Politics was stressful and we needed to let those who understood it be involved. We had been conditioned to just keep our mouths shut even when we disagreed and even when stuff that was said about us wasn’t true. It was normal for us to believe that politics didn’t affect us and wasn’t about us. Thus, there was no need to talk about it or try to figure out what it was. Back then, I didn’t know anyone who truly understood politics completely anyway.

I had been working for the Upward Bound program at Concord University in an old moldy house behind the “President’s” massive derelict building. One of the qualifications to get into the program was to be a high school student from a low-income family and/or be the first in your family to go to college for a bachelor’s degree. I was in the Upward Bound program when I was in high school and was very grateful for it. Not truly knowing about or thoroughly understanding the bureaucratic and grant processes yet, I naively, took on more work than was required as it pertained to my job description. I didn’t mind doing more work if I could help the students in the ways I wished people had helped me. I wanted to let them know that they could make a difference and to always follow their dreams. Plus, I felt indebted to have a job so that most of our minimal bills could be paid. 

It was constantly chaotic there, but I was a good and overly positive worker bee. One day I got a call out of the blue from an organization that I had old ties to.  Child Law Services assists children in southern West Virginia with as quoted from their website, “child abuse and neglect representation, child custody-guardian ad litem, child victims of crime-domestic violence, sexual abuse, etc., adoption, juvenile delinquency, and truancy cases.”  A little more than a decade prior, I had volunteered without financial payment for 100 hours with Child Law Services when I was a senior in high school. At my high school, each senior was required to do a research project to graduate. 

Back in 2001, I chose my research topic to be on child abuse. Since hearing about research regarding impoverished and at risk children from my 4th grade teacher, it was in my heart to help “the abused and poor children who had slim chances of ever succeeding.” Those were the words the teacher said straight from research studies, not mine. The lineup for the children who had it the worst struck a chord of desire in me at an early age to do something to change the odds. I had prior contact with the person who asked me to speak through a get together group that I was a part of earlier before the summer. You know, one of those things where people meet, talk, and nothing gets done? The person was overly nice, which I found odd, because my impression was that she didn’t care too much for me. She wanted me to speak, very briefly, at a ceremony where they would be receiving money. The founder of Sabika, Karin Mayr would be giving the organization a donation $11,000.00.

When I was asked to speak at the fundraiser for the nonprofit organization, I had no craving to speak publicly. I liked to talk with people in small groups and one on one but with most of those people, bonds were already formed between us.  This wasn’t even close to being compared to the same as talking with friends. This was different. It was more complicated. There were so many unknowns. For me, it’s easier to talk with people I already know and get along with. 

Additionally, we didn’t have a car at that time and I was trying to make myself look like everyone else’s definition of perfection. That’s what I had been working towards, “looking perfect.” Despite my struggles, down here, I had to look like I had it together at all times. I had learned the hard way that if you gave anyone a reason to doubt you, they would, and there goes another missed opportunity. With pressure, the woman from CLS said that she had presented for UB previously and that they should return the favor. 

My life hadn’t ever been peaches and cream. Even though I had volunteered and then obtained legal services at CLS when I was a teenager, I was stunned, confused, and stressed when I was asked to speak. My first thought was that I wouldn’t be able to do it because I couldn’t get off work for it. My next thought was with my husband and I not having a car, I didn’t have a ride to the event either. In West Virginia, public transit is a privilege only reserved for our larger “cities.” 

Another barrier to speaking publicly was my lack of confidence in myself and low self-esteem. I didn’t feel like people in general cared about me at this time.  The lady from Child Law Services put extra pressure on my boss to allow me go to the event eventually saying that, “you owe us” for some previous thing they had done with Upward Bound. That ties in with the whole, “I will scratch your back if you scratch mine” mentality. I suppose that’s how many people work in the world but not how I do.   

Anyway, the pressure didn’t stop there as she also emailed, called, messaged and generally harassed me into speaking. I wasn’t a public speaker. Like I said before, I was taught that you didn’t talk about things, especially on a public platform, and more so especially, NOT about God, Politics, or being Poor. You just didn’t, not from where I came from. Society had taught me to be the “good little girl.” A part of that meant being able to act appropriately always, being quiet, following all the rules, and apologizing and being nice for all mistakes happening around me, even when none of the mishaps were my fault. After childhood, I was expected to be a good wife, woman, and to remain quiet. 

After the intense pressure and the back and forth conversations, and being told, “you don’t say no when a judge wants you to do something,” I agreed to do it. Hindsight being 20/20, it looks like I was used for payback for something. I was a part of a deal that I didn’t have much of a hand in. I received no financial payment for services rendered. Back then, I had no idea that it was even possible for me to actually get paid to speak. I learned that the hard way later on though.  The way I work and believe is to operate through love. Loving actions and behaviors should be included with how we treat everyone. It is the greatest thing we can do, to love. Forgiveness of self and others is a major part of being able to receive and give love. I forgive myself for not believing in myself at that time and I forgive anyone who may have tried to use me for their own benefit.

I agreed to speak in public about what a few of my challenges were as a teenager and point out that Child Law Services helped me some. One of the ways the first Executive Director and founder of CLS tried to help me grow was to appoint me as one of the Board of Directors for Child Law Services. I sat on and served on the board at the age of 18 for about a year and I would have stayed longer but I did not believe it was a role for me. I had no idea what the words meant that the people who wore fancy clothes said. I’d listen at the meetings and jot down notes, but I was rather confused most of the time and I wasn’t sure of myself enough then to ask questions to help me better understand.