My friends and neighbors know me for my big smile. But it wasn’t always that way.
When I was 11, me and my mama moved from Arkansas to the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. It was the center of all the chaos. Mama tried her best to teach me wrong from right, but by the time I was a teenager I was stealing, selling drugs, getting in fights. I joined a gang, and whatever the group did, I did it too. I never stayed more than a night in jail, but I began building up a record.
By the time I was 30, I had six kids to provide for, and I knew I had to start using my head. Ends didn’t really meet like I wanted them to, but I made it work. I’d go without to make sure my kids never went hungry, and that they always had a roof over their head.
Raising my kids in Englewood, there was a lot of killing, a lot of gang activity. I did everything in my power to keep my kids on the right track. But I found one of them slipping.
When my baby boy Jacques got shot the first time, it took a lot out of me. He was 15. I said Joc, this is not the life you want. The second time he got shot, he was 18. The third time, 19. The last time, he got killed. He was 20 years old.
After Jacques passed, I shut myself out from the world. My youngest daughter had to make sure I ate, and my best friend didn’t leave my side for a year. She was too scared I would hurt myself.
I was still grieving when a friend told me about Growing Home. I said, I’m not ready to work right now. I hadn’t been around nobody new in a year. I didn’t know how to feel anymore. But then I took a breath and said, you know what? I can try.
The first day I refused to say or do anything. I just couldn’t control my feelings. But as the weeks went by, I started to open up little by little. I began to smile. I found myself starting to communicate. I thought, I’m not going to blow this second chance. I’m going to do everything in my power to do right.
Working at Growing Home was a total change. I’d come into work each day and be harvesting, seeding, weeding. I felt so motivated. I got my joy back, my confidence. Before, I didn’t know how to type a cover letter or write a resume. They taught me that. I can go job hunting now. I know how to talk to supervisors now.
Growing Home helped me with other things in my life that kept me from holding down a job, too. I got rental assistance. I got a CTA card. I got interview clothes. And I got my criminal record expunged so I can start over with a clean slate.
Once upon a time I wanted my life to end. When I lost my son I lost myself, and I didn’t start gaining that back until I came to Growing Home. Now, my new happiness isn’t going anywhere. I worked too hard to get it. I have skills that’ll take me a very long way, and I’m gonna use them to my fullest.