I come from a loving family; however, my mother was a single parent, and
my father was incarcerated all throughout my high school years. Both of
my parents are high school graduates. My father had a blue-collar job
with a promising future, but it was all swept away with one bad decision
that landed him behind bars for over 5years. I have a total of seven
siblings, three boys and four girls. My mom and I have a very good
relationship; we are more like sisters. My mom was young when she
started her family; she didn’t have much but, what she did have, she
gave it all to her children. I remember my mother telling me at age 9,
“Don’t be like me, go further in life and be happy in whatever you
do.” Those words stuck with me because at the age of about seven, I
recognized all our real-life struggles. She lost her mom at the age of
12, so she didn’t have many real-world experiences, nor was she
experienced with the hardship of the real world. My mom and her children
were all taught the harsh reality of life and its setbacks together.
My mother was later raised by her father, the greatest grandfather ever,
Robert Lee Williams! Granddaddy was an old school man, the kind of man
who worked while his wife stayed home. Granddaddy took care of many
households; anyone who was in need, he would give the shirt off his
back. He was a teacher, a disciplinarian. Before my dad was
incarcerated, we were very close like a father and daughter should be. I
was daddy’s little girl; we went on play dates and adventures. I
called our outing adventures because he made sure my siblings and I had
fun, no matter where we were. My family has a saying for me. “My daddy
said I can do it.” That meant, leave me alone cause my daddy said so!
The absence of a provider and protector became a struggle without my
father present. We were restricted to low-income resources such food
stamps, welfare, and assistance with healthcare. My mother became a
single parent and, with one income, we struggled to make ends meet.
Getting to school became a challenge because taking public
transportation was a safety hazard in the neighborhood I lived in. My
neighborhood had no street light so, at 6 a.m., waiting on the bus was
scary and unsafe. The buses never made their route on time, so standing
at the bus stop was a game of Russian Roulette, a dangerous chance for
safe travels. We were faced with the ultimatum of paying the gas and
lights or rent… this was life for us.
Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, the environment in which I grew up
in was poverty stricken. My household was a ‘hot mess’: no father,
no lights or gas (that wasn’t cut on illegally), no discipline, and no
money. Can you imagine waking up to a cold house, boiling water to bathe
and cook with? Can you imagine using a kerosene heater to warm the
house? Yes, these are essential services that modern society needs to
live a healthier and more relaxed lifestyle. If the gas was off, we
boiled water on a hot plate. If the lights were off, we ran a generator
to provide for light and, if we needed to heat the house, we turned on
electric heaters or opened the oven.
This type of behavior was a matter of choice and priority. I know this
to be a fact because I too made some unwise decisions as an adult. I
felt forced to move from my mother’s residence out into the real world
at the tender age of sixteen, with hopes it would take some of the
struggle off of my mother with one less mouth to feed. I also took my
younger sister with me to help raise. When you are in an unhealthy
environment, it doesn’t mean that’s the end of the road. No matter
your current situation, if you believe in God, then there is always a
way out! Never give up; if you have to take the bus or walk to school,
go and finish. If you have to get a job to help your parent out, get a
job and, if you need a big sister, I am here.
This was the most challenging time of my life. Unlike the average
teenager in high school, I was working two jobs to support myself and my
siblings throughout high school. I rented a house, purchased my own car,
and later paid my way through college. My very first car, my roommate
and I purchased 50/50. We were determined because we had jobs and
school, not to mention a social life. A 95 Ford Escort, yes, the one
with the automatic seatbelts. The ‘white horse’ only lasted about a
year and then the engine gave way, but we were able to get to work and
school. Before I had a car of my own, I used public transportation,
which was cheap, and accessible but not dependable or safe.
Immediately after my car was broke down, I understood the severity of
the situation. I went into immediate grind mode. I was in my senior year
and a classmate of mine was selling his car for $1000, a 93 Buick Regal.
The Buick wasn’t my style, but the plan was to get what I could afford
for a dependable ride to take me to work and school. I purchased the car
and back to work I went. I worked at Subway full-time after school and,
on the weekends, it was KFC. I used this as a platform to build my life.
The steps leading towards my goal started with getting a job. I went to
every business that was accepting applications at the age 16. After
about two weeks of job hunting, I called and popped in places, spoke
with the hiring managers, and before the month was out, I had a job. In
the year 2017, moving forward, it is all about your résumé and
qualifications, or who you know! Today, the same hard work and
dedication to the job hunt, the better your chances, along with degrees
and experience. Working to support myself helped me stay out of trouble
and allowed me to start a good work ethic. My rent was paid and those
senior dues were too and, no matter how hard it was, I stayed true to
the ultimate goal to graduate from high school.
The real world is not easy; you have to know what your goal is and fight
for it. Consistency is key. My high school sisters, (MHS) that is what I
call them. Three young ladies all in high school rooming together in a
house on the Eastside of Detroit. We all had issues within our household
that bonded us together for life. We worked and supported each other by
dividing rent and all utilities, and everybody contributed groceries.
Chores were broken down; if you mess up, you clean up! We were all
mature young ladies with goals and ambition. Of course, we had our girl
fights but, till this day, I can call on any one of them without notice.
I can honestly say we have a real friendship.
My High School Sisters became family; we pushed each other every day to
succeed in life. We supported each other by making sure each other got
up for school and did homework assignments; we even taught each other
how to drive! Times were tough not having family around, but that’s
the very thing that made us stronger, understanding that the world
didn’t stop because you were in need. So, succeed, push forward, and
move with the world.
Readers, don’t allow anyone to tell you no and always do your research
before agreeing to anything. Remember, God has a plan for your life;
your plan is your journey. Never idolize anyone else’s life, create
your own person. Creating relationships with other people is all a part
of growing up and moving towards adulthood. Allow these relationships to
be used as a tool or resource and always love and respect one another.
Nothing was ever given to me and everything that I owned, I had to work
hard to obtain. My goal has always been to make it to the top of my
ladder and stay there. Once you think you have conquered it all, there
will be another step to climb; let me explain.
Now that I am thirty years old and trying to purchase my first home
while raising a family and working, as well as having an entrepreneur
spirt, everything that I didn’t understand about the real world at
eighteen is affecting my life now, like credit, student loans, old car
loans, and past due bills. This is the age when everything matters:
credit, relationships, and careers. Pay attention and use these
experiences as informational tools to guide you clear of these
interventions. The chapters discussed in this book are life-changing
real-world events that you will need to be aware of before leaving high
school and entering college. What I do understand now is that a young,
impressionable sixteen-year-old needs guidance, direction, and a mentor
to help with preparation for the real world.
I kept hearing all this older, more experienced people tell me about
this real world and how it’s going to swallow me whole and spit me
back out. I was listening but not understanding the consequences, so I
will tell you my real-life situations and the consequences. What is the
real world? That answer is simple; the real world is simply
responsibility and freedom of choice. The real questions you should be
asking yourself now is what is credit and how does credit play an
important role in my adulthood? How do you manage a bank account? What
are the steps to choosing the right crowds to hang around? I know it’s
often spoken to me, but how do I love myself more than I love someone
else? Is it really that hard to keep up with bills?
No one told me the answers to any of these questions but, lucky for you,
you won’t have to go through life saying, “If only somebody would
have told me…”
Author Thoughts: Now that I have told you how I grew up and how my
real-life situations became distractions and tried to deter me from my
ultimate goal, you are able to connect with your real- life struggles
and make some life changes for a better future. Instead of using my
background as an excuse for a negative lifestyle, I have created a
positive, well-functioning life. I am a true survivor of many
situations, growing up in poverty, financially supporting myself at a
very young age, and becoming a mother at a very young age are all
excuses for failure. As many will relate and many will not, I am living
proof that if you are ready for change, you have the power. In my own
words, “Stay positive, you control your destiny.”
Excerpted from "Big Sister Secrets" by Yolanda Jenkins. Copyright © 2017 by Yolanda Jenkins. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.