They said I was born to fail…
They said I would be mentally retarded
and that my life was over before it had even started.
They said that I would eventually end up in some type of institution
that would have to give me ‘round the clock care
with someone to wipe the drool off my chin as I absently sat there.
They said a lot of things,
and although the stigmas have always remained,
the only thing that in truth reigned was the fact that I was born addicted to cocaine.
Their words filled the pool in which all hope had drowned.
I learned how to swim, and I broke that barrier down.

Then more came along…
This time I was “damaged.”
They said I would be emotionally unstable,
untrusting of men and, in this patriarchal society, be unable to manage.
I was no longer innocent, but the victim of actions so vile, yet all the while,
they forgot about the child who, after six years of sexual abuse,
felt like she was the one being put on trial.
They said I was always going to have low self-esteem, low self-confidence and be insecure.
They built the fence around the pool.
I learned how to climb and each chained link became my tool.

Then even more came…
Now, they called me a fornicator and a promiscuous young girl.
I was shunned and belittled, put down and degraded to less than a human being
this time because I was pregnant at thirteen.
They told me I’d end up a “Welfare Queen.”
They said I’d have fifteen different kids by sixteen different men,
sitting on my butt waiting for a government check to spend.
I was ridiculed and called irresponsible for choosing to have my son
and becoming a parent so young.
They judged me harshly under their bright light
without consideration for what was going on in the dark, out of their sight.
My mother was on drugs, my brother ran the streets
and we went to school to escape our reality that was so bleak (and because we got to eat!).
They said, at best, I’d end up a manager at McDonald’s.
This time, they put a guard on the other side of the fence.
I learned how to be friendly, and eventually, on my way I went.

Each step drew me closer to freedom and becoming more than a dreamer
and I found it true that on the other side the grass was greener;
but they also got meaner.
Each time I stumbled, I heard them mumble
To them, I’d become everything they’d said I would be;
a failure, a victim, a dropout and many other things.
They called me any and everything but my name,
It seemed that no matter how much progress I’d made by getting a job, my GED,
and even going to college,
they’d find some way to label me, so long as it was done negatively.
They put up the orange barrels and made sure every avenue was closed.
I learned how to do construction. And now, I pave my own roads.

I refuse to be what they label me, for I have my own destiny to meet.
Yes, I was a cocaine baby; I was sexually abused,
I was a teenage mother, I was a high school dropout,
I have had a lot of labels affixed to me.
If you must label me,
label me for WHO I am, not what I have experienced.
I am success.
I am a wife, a mother, a sister, an inspiration to others,
a fighter, a peacekeeper, a writer whose thoughts run deeper,
a student on the Dean’s List, and a person whose presence can’t be missed.
I have broken stereotypes and did everything they said I couldn’t do.
I stand here today because someone said,
“Arlene, I believe in you.”

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