It was Harriet Tubman who said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
The road to success is not an easy one. The truth is, the journey to success may be the most confusing and painful journey you have ever taken. People who you thought loved you may leave you. The people who have been assigned to help you may hurt you. People may define you by your situation or present circumstance. But it is the strength, the patience, and the passion of the dreamer that propels them beyond their present reality and encourages them to keep going.
It takes courage to dream… it takes courage to keep going and at times it’s not easy.
I especially learned this in my first year at Candler School of Theology as I participated in Contextual Education at Genesis Shelter, a homeless shelter for families with infant children. Each week I observed women who had escaped the strangle hold of domestic abuse, childhood neglect, and societal indifference, to a place of abject poverty and income inequality. Through it all, they persevered and pursued waning dreams with the hope that their children’s lives would be better than their own.
In his poem, “Mother to Son”, Langston Hughes describes a conversation a struggling mom has with her child. She says:
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor –
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometime goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now –
For I’se still goin’, honey,
Ise still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
Like the mother in this poem, my mother became my inspiration. I watched my mother keep going. I was 5-years-old when she left my father. We moved into a tiny three bedroom house in the country. My mom paid $60 for rent. The rooms were so small they looked more like cell blocks than bedrooms. The house was infested with roaches and rodents. We didn’t know how poor we were.
But she kept going.
She had to deal with a failed marriage, and three hungry, growing kids at home. People passing judgment and making assumption, but she kept going. She worked at night and slept during the day to make sure we had food to eat and a roof over our heads. The road wasn’t easy, but she kept going. There were tacks in it, and splinters, and boards all torn up… But she kept going
It was her perseverance that gave birth to the dreamer inside of me.
It was her will and tenacity that made me believe I could be the first in my family to graduate from college. It was her bravery and relentlessness that inspired me to go from academic suspension to the dean’s list. It was her faith and prayers that kept me out of jail and away from the wrong crowds.
And now as I navigate this road; this journey to success, I am faced with my own challenges. I am faced with my own splinters, tacks, torn up boards, and bare floors. I am faced with the challenge of pursuing a dream with little resources. I am faced with the challenging of feeling misunderstood and playing small to accommodate the comfort of others. I am faced with the threat of never measuring up to the standard society has set and the fear of failing; but I cannot turn back. You cannot turn back. You cannot sit down on the steps. You have to keep climbing. You have to keep reaching.
When I feel like I cannot continue, like giving up is the best option, I am encouraged by the women at Genesis, the actions of my mother, and the advice Harriet Tubman spoke to the dreamers. She told those who were trying to escape slavery and make it to freedom:
“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If they’re shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”
So I encourage every dreamer to keep going.
When others believe they know what’s better for you than you yourself, keep going. When folks use their position and power against you, keep going. When you have to navigate a broken system that fails you at every stop and every turn, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever quit. When you have to hide and cry so your kids don’t see it, keep going. Someone’s dream is reliant on your determination.
Don’t allow your dream to die in your current situation. You may have to go alone; you may have to go in the dark – where there is no light. But don’t you stop. You’ve come too far to quit.
This is dedicated to my hero, my inspiration, my mother. I love you with my whole heart.