I’m writing this post for my family as much as myself.
I grew up in a fading industrial town in southern Ohio surrounded by paper and steel mills. I watched my single mom claw her way up from poverty-level wages and 2 AM calls in her entry-level job at the dawn of modern computing. I still remember standing in my pajamas amidst the weird hum of mainframe computers as she worked whatever magic she had to work in the middle of those long nights. 20 years later, she would become a project manager making 80k a year.
I saw that struggle and learned what it meant to work hard. I also learned, at least as much as I could as a young man, what it must be to be a woman, a single mom, in present-day America.
Then I saw her lose it all. A layoff. A foreclosure. An abusive second husband. A son (my brother) with severe addiction problems made worse by years of frustration in our below-average, one-size-fits-all school district.
I had worked through college, first community, then four year state school, after which I promptly put my liberal arts degree to use working retail and paying $150 a month for rent in our near-abandoned steel town. Just down the road, a flame from the plant burned day and night and sometimes when it rained it looked like Coca-Cola. Friends worked 14-hour shifts to churn out the raw material for automobiles no one in town was buying.
I had settled into this low place. Keep my head down, watch the town I lived in bleed out, and try not to think about the trials of my mother and my brother. I didn’t realize it, but I had given up.
One of the last times I was in the house where I grew up, before the foreclosure, I fought my stepfather. It was over something stupid that grew into something serious. He was drunk, things were thrown, skin was separated, and we both ended up in police cruisers. I slept through my shower in the municipal jail the next morning and went before the judge still bloody from the night before.
At that point, I knew I had to do something new. I joined Americorps, working two wonderful years in urban schools and doing service projects in some of Cincinnati’s most interesting and underestimated neighborhoods. I met champions doing so much more than I had done with so much less than I had.
Telling stories has always been a passion of mine. After my service, I realized I would like the privilege of telling the stories of these champions— the stories of people who, despite being put down by economics or geography or gender or skin color, continue to push on and strive for the America that has always been promised but never quite delivered.
People like my mother.
So here I am, privileged to be studying journalism in graduate school. Is it a crap shoot? Hell yes. I need no reminders how hard it is to get a job in the field. Is it a calling? Hell yes. I can’t imagine doing anything else. People need to hear about and talk about the heroic efforts of everyday folks. Because at this point, the deeds of these folks are the only thing about this country I have faith in.
What’s your story? Submit your story and we’ll publish it here.