How I Speak Up!

“Nicole, although your year-end review showed that you were among the top producers for the Georgia Families 360 program, we are unable to offer you a salary increase.  We hope that you will continue to advocate for the adoption assistance, foster care, and juvenile justice population as you have done this year so successfully.”

Wow.  There I was, the third year in a row, not receiving the salary increase that was “guaranteed” to me when I interviewed for the position.  As an outreach care specialist, I was tasked with calling healthcare facilities, juvenile correctional facilities, and families to ensure they were taking care of children’s’ needs.  Between making calls, I would receive calls, emails, and letters asking me to set up the appointments that parents and group homes were supposed to be setting up.  Did I mention I was also a graduate student working on a master’s degree?  The Master of Public Administration program I entered was a fourteen-month program, but because my job was taking so much out of me, and I was living with my alcoholic boyfriend, I made a “C” in my final class, the class I was required to make a “B” in.  At this point, I feel like my world is falling apart and I don’t know how to reel it in.  So instead of sending out graduation invitations for December 2015, I have to register for this same seminar…again.  This time, however, I have nine weeks to write an entire thesis.  As challenging as it was, I did it.  In March of 2016, I submitted my eighty-eight-page thesis and was set to walk across the stage in May. 

Months after graduation, I thought my life would be different.  I thought I would have found a new job, a new career, as a City Administrator perhaps.  I thought the drinking would slow down, and I thought my supervisor would appreciate her subordinate obtaining a new degree and presenting her in the best light.  What’s funny, however, about the way we think is, we always think one dimensional, always in our own selfish ways, with our very limited capacity.  November was a turning point for me, and I can only imagine It being because my birthday is in the month of November and that is when I tend to start my “New Year’s Resolution”.  After speaking with my grandfather who thought that having my Master’s now meant I was a lawyer, and having friends that are attorneys, I set my sights on something that had been a dream of mine since I was a little girl watching Angie Harmon in pencil skirts on Law and Order.  I was going to law school.

Fast forward, past the LSAT that I took twice, I had a decision to make.  I could go to Mercer School of Law, which means I would live at home, University of Tennessee College of Law, or Texas A & M.  the reality was, Texas A & M was the best offer, and Mercer was close to home and I would not have to accrue as much debt living with my boyfriend.  But, in the back of my mind, I heard two voices, the first was God, and the second was my own.  I told myself that Texas was entirely too far from Georgia, but that Mercer was entirely too close if I wanted to make a change in my life.  So, I chose the University of Tennessee.  While most were genuinely excited, there was my boyfriend.  As a functioning alcoholic, he found many ways to manipulate situations to his benefit and make me feel terribly guilty if I ever chose me.  This time was different, this time we were three and a half years into a one-sided relationship, I had already stood up for myself at work by resigning and deciding to go to law school, it was time for me to choose myself, it was time for me to build Nicole, in ways that I did not while pursuing a Master’s, in a way I had not even in undergrad.  I chose the University of Tennessee, not just for proximity, but for my life, for my dreams, and even for him, because I knew, had I stayed, the cycle would have continued, and he would still be drinking rather than a recovering alcoholic.  He has been sober for fifteen months, and I have been advocating for myself, for my peers, and for the community for nearly two years now. 

I have been an under-represented black woman, I have known vulnerable people, and I have served in organizations whose goal is to serve “the little” guy, and because of that, I will serve as a voice for myself and those marginalized. 

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