Stories of Hope and Learning
Stories of Hope And Learning Madonna Universityâ€™s SouthWest Educational Empowerment Program Detroit, Michigan In Cooperation with the Michigan Council of the Arts and Cultural Affairs
Publication of this book was made possible through the assistance of the Michigan Council of the Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) and Madonna University in Livonia, MI. Copyright ÂŠ 2014 By Madonna University All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America First Edition, 2014
Requests for permission to reproduce any material from this book should be sent to: SWEEP Publication Stories of Hope and Learning Madonna University, 36600 Schoolcraft Road, Livonia, MI 48150 Phone (734) 432-5733 E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Dedicated to Marcia Boehm And Late SWEEP Students In April of 2013, the SWEEP program felt the passing of one of its dearest friends and advocates ... a woman who taught us the meaning of perseverance, who encouraged us to never give up on ourselves or our neighbor, and who modeled hope and gentle love through every class she taught, every student she advised, and every person who was blessed to have called her friend. Marciaâ€™s extraordinary ability to help us reach down deep inside of ourselves and pull out the best was unparalleled. She always liked to make significant social change on a large level, and her daily legacy of leading by example could not have been a better means for profound change in all of us. We thank you, we miss you, and we look forward to seeing you again one day. Over the past several years, we have also lost four treasured SWEEP students: Marcella Paufhausen, Ana Tabares, Gary Cooper, and Linda Harper. We dedicate this anthology to them, too: their achievements, their hopes, and the affection we still have for each of them.
Table of Contents Acknowledgements....................................................................... ix Foreword........................................................................................ xi Tia Silva A New Beginning.............................................................................1 Mirna Galvan My Name Is Donnie........................................................................5 Donnie Barnes I’m Trying to Remember................................................................7 Maria (“Mia”) Ruiz Hidden in Me...................................................................................9 Tanya Saldivar-Ali Age Is Just a Number.................................................................. 11 Laura Rebollar A Chance Conversation: My Story of Hope...............................15 Frank Solano It Has to Come From Yourself.....................................................17 Janice Barreto A Father’s Wisdom.......................................................................19 Alice Kirksey Don’t Run From the House You Made........................................21 Mirna Galvan Be and Do Your Best.....................................................................23 Emma Aviles Sometimes the Best Lesson Is a Bought Lesson.........................25 Venus Crooms
A Sister’s Love Pushed Me...........................................................29 Debra Foreman Tio’s Advice...................................................................................31 Lourdes C. Jasso Angel Is His Name........................................................................ 33 Mirna Galvan A Work in Progress...................................................................... 35 Bernadine Martin (Mask-Davis) A Minister’s Reflections................................................................37 Jacquelyn Jones Writers’ Biographies.....................................................................39 Reflections on our SWEEP Experiences.....................................45
Cover design: Melissa Graham is majoring in graphic design at Madonna University. Melissa’s cover design exemplifies the vitality and fortitude of Madonna University’s SWEEP students. Photographs by Kathleen Thompson
Acknowledgements First and foremost, the contributors to Stories of Hope and Learning deserve thanks for sharing their powerful and intimate portraits. They didn’t do it for money; they didn’t do it for college credit; they didn’t do it for the acclaim. They wrote to inspire other men and women to take hold of their futures. They wrote to make a difference. Gratitude also goes to Tia Silva, SWEEP coordinator, who initiated this project, kept the rest of us on task, and encouraged SWEEP students and graduates to find the time and courage to write their stories. Stories of Hope and Learning came to fruition largely because of Tia’s vision, commitment, and drive. Frances FitzGerald, Madonna’s writing center coordinator and adjunct writing professor, worked closely with Tia to plan and coordinate committee meetings, workshops, editing, and printing of Stories of Hope and Learning. Frances also taught one of the summer workshops at SWEEP for the contributors. Mary Minock, Madonna University professor, poet, and author of The Way-Back Room: A Memoir of a Detroit Childhood, helped our authors find the vibrant, unique story inside of their initial drafts at her summer workshops. With patience and sensitivity, she coached them to dig down into themselves to find the story they needed to tell. Ioana Fracassi, assistant professor at Madonna University, poet, and editor of the Madonna Muse, carefully edited each story with sensitivity and precision. With Stories of Hope and Learning, she has helped assure a place for student work in contemporary Detroit-based writing. We also thank the following individuals who helped make this project possible: • Ozzie Rivera, director of community engagement with Southwest Solutions, who helped in the brain-storming stages and with phone calls to potential contributors;
• Kathleen Thompson, Madonna University’s gifted professional photographer, for capturing the emotion and beauty of our authors; • Melissa Graham, the Madonna art student who designed the front and back cover, for her talent, flexibility, professionalism, and patience; • Lisa Comben, director of Corporate and Foundation Relations in Madonna’s Advancement Office, who helped to develop a grant proposal and garner the MCACA grant; • Ernest Nolan, Madonna University provost, who helped to write the grant proposals; • Karen Sanborn, director of Marketing at Madonna University, for her input and help with promotional activities; • Women’s Cultural Collaborative of Detroit, as spearheaded by Sister Annette Zipple; • Authors from the previous anthology, Women of Southwest Detroit, who chose the path less traveled and dared to do what had not been done before; • James Novak, dean of Outreach and Distance Learning, for his expertise and advice, and for being an ever-constant sounding board; and • SWEEP staff, who assisted with the project wherever and whenever needed. Finally, thanks to the Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs for funding our efforts, and to Madonna University for supporting this project. With our shared commitment to Detroit’s cultural life, we were able to create something meaningful and lasting. Despite the challenges faced by Detroit, projects like Stories of Hope and Learning show its indomitable spirit.
By Tia Silva, SWEEP coordinator and project co-director I started thinking about the possibility of Stories of Hope and Learning when I first read Women of Southwest Detroit, a SWEEP anthology coordinated by Madonna University Professor Catherine Johnstone, published in 2004. I was moved by the raw honesty and emotion in each of the poems and stories. Those SWEEP students wrote about their racial heritage, a gambling grandmother, the tradition of praying to statues, living in a camp, Muliet Park, and a mother’s home-baked biscuits. “Why not do this again?” I asked myself. I spoke about this dream with Jim Novak, Ernest Nolan, Lisa Comben, Karen Sanborn, Frances FitzGerald, and other members of the Madonna community. Ideas for a new SWEEP anthology percolated in my brain for a couple of years before we started pulling it together. Then we received a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA), and we were on our way. It took a village to create this work. Besides MCACA’s contribution, colleagues donated time and grant-proposal-writing, teaching, tutoring, editing, and phone-calling labor. Most of all, however, our SWEEP students and alumni did the hard work of opening up, writing, re-writing, and entrusting their “stories” to someone else for editing. When you read their work, which mostly relates to their experience with higher education, you will understand what makes our writers so special. Theirs are stories that need to be shared. I’m confident that as you read each of the selections in Stories of Hope and Learning, you will be as impressed as I am with these portraits of lives that profoundly matter. In addition, I hope these stories will inspire others to take charge of their lives and—if higher education has been a dream of theirs—to take the leap, as our eloquent and successful writers have.
A New Beginning Mirna Galvan
I always knew that I had a special calling, although for the longest time I didn’t know what it was. One afternoon, as I sat down with my two children, I thought long and hard about my education. I realized that I needed to make some major changes, go beyond a mere high school diploma. Being married with children at twentyfour and only holding a part-time job, I knew it was the right time. Yet, how to let my husband know? How to tell him that I wanted more from life, that he would need to help with the children while I attended school? I was really scared about bringing up the subject; worried about the way he might respond to my plans. That evening, while I cleaned the house and cooked dinner, my mind raced a million miles. I prepared my husband’s favorite food, let him enjoy it, and then gently opened a discussion: “How’s work?” I asked. “Did you have a good day?” He seemed to be in a good mood as he responded: “What is it that you want, eh? This is my favorite food and you are being extremely nice. Why don’t you spit out what it is that you need?” I sat across the table from him and let him know that I wanted to change my life for the better. And change not only my life but, in the process, that of our family. He looked straight at me, with his head held high, and said: “Who will care for the babies in all this? They need their mother at home!” I stood up and replied firmly: “Their father. And their mother, too! I found this program called SWEEP offering classes for women seeking to return to school. It’s offered by Madonna University. Classes are close by and I can attend at my own pace while helping out at home.” That was it. I didn’t ask further for permission or offer additional details. The very next day, I went to the program’s orientation held at St. Vincent Catholic School. By the evening, I was enrolled in college and set to begin my classes in the fall. I started off slowly, 1
taking two classes at a time. I needed to make sure that I met my responsibilities at home as well as at school – that I had dinner on the table every night, that my children’s homework was completed, and that I could handle my own school work. On my first day of school, I was nervous and excited at the same time. But I knew it was not going to be easy. Not at all! Challenges came my way every day. And when I least expected it, just a few weeks into my classes, I found out that my new schedule was not going well with my husband’s. One day he called me and said: “I have to work late. You will need to stay home with the children.” I put down the phone, looked at my two kids and said: “Help Mommy pack your bags, because you are going to go to school with me.” “Yippy!” they both yelled, rushing to fill their own backpacks with goodies and toys and coloring books and crayons. In a crazy rush, I grabbed my own bag, and off to school we all went. I wanted to cry from the stress, but I kept on driving. “There is no turning back now,” I kept telling myself. As I parked my car in front of the school, I prayed that my instructor would understand my situation and not send me and my kids back home. Just before class, I explained to her why I had to bring the children with me, and she allowed us all to stay. I sat Benjamin and Salina down and said, “You need to help Mommy now. Be good kids and make your mommy proud.” While I sat a few desks ahead of them, the kids did not make a sound. They munched on their goodies and colored pictures for me. They’d smile every couple of minutes and whisper my way, “Are you almost done, Mommy?” As I turned around to look at them, I knew I was doing the right thing. Yeah, there was no going back on my dreams now. It would all work out in the end. Weeks turned into months and months turned into years, and I was making sacrifices for my family along the way. Five years’ worth. Many times, I had to take Benjamin and Salina with me to class. Despite the challenge, it never stopped me from attending school. 2
I had a goal and I was not going to let anything or anyone prevent me from reaching it. I attended my classes faithfully, making sure to meet all my academic responsibilities. Above all, I attended school knowing that it would change my life for the better, and that of my children – even when they had to stay in class with me for three solid hours instead of being home in their little beds, sleeping. When I earned my college diploma in 2005, every credit and grade that went into it was well earned. I can say now that I am not only a proud mother of two beautiful children but also a graduate of Madonna University with full honors. When I was handed my diploma I told to myself, “I finally did it!” It took me five years of hard work, long nights of doing homework after taking care of my family, but it was all worth it! And as I crossed the stage at graduation, with my diploma in my hand, I waved to my family and friends knowing that I’d do it all over again, if I had to. Benjamin and Salina’s words were the greatest reward at the end of this long journey: “We are so proud of you, Mommy! You did it! You did it!” I smiled at my children and knew, once more, that I had done the right thing. My special calling was to get an education – and so a new beginning started the day I set out to earn it.
My Name Is Donnie Donnie Barnes
My name is Donnie Barnes. I am a graduate of the Southwest Detroit Women’s Educational Empowerment Project, also known as Madonna University’s SWEEP. I always dreamt of completing my college education and often told my children so. But it was one of my former classmates who encouraged me to sign up for Madonna’s program. I did, and it turned out that it was the best choice I’ve made in my life. I was not the typical college student by any means. For one, I was already a grandmother raising two children, ages three and four. I was also a wife who held a demanding full-time job. Imagine me getting my grandkids ready for Head Start every morning, going to work, and attending classes in between. Then, imagine my dear husband driving me to and from class, rain or shine. Snow, too. I was praying continuously for fear of failing. Would I be able withstand the pressures of school and family? I remember working on a paper that counted sixty percent of my grade. It was a group project, but my partner was unable to help me complete it. I stayed up many nights working on the project. Prayed and worked. Worked and prayed. I had to ask for an extension to finish the assignment on my own, but I didn’t give up. I was determined to turn it in and do good work. When I received my paper back with passing scores, I was so relieved. The effort paid off. My classmates and I were the forerunners for SWEEP’s Social Work Program. When the program was accredited, people came from everywhere to interview us. They were inspired by our experiences, impressed by the limitations we overcame in order to achieve our goals. And when I graduated, I felt so special! We were all given corsages and were seated in the front row at the ceremony. In addition, our pictures were featured in El Central newspaper. Have I mentioned being invited by the SWEEP staff at a restaurant reception? Everyone congratulated us and clapped for us when we came in. They treated us like stars! This was something that I never dreamt would happen to me. Just months later, the director at my place of employment acknowledged me as the social worker of the
year. My education was more than paying off: credentialed professional competence and recognition from my peers! One detail worth mentioning, too: When I graduated from the SWEEP program in 2004, I was fifty-nine years old. As I walked across the stage to get my diploma, I felt as if I was dreaming. I kept telling myself, â€œMy name is Donnie Barnes, and I am a college graduate, with honors!â€? Education opened a whole new world for me and inspired my own children to aspire to more. All but one earned college degrees and work hard to live happy, fulfilling lives. This is the value of an education!
Trying to Remember Maria (“Mia”) Ruiz
I’m trying to remember how to find, every day, a reason, if not many, to give thanks, a reason to smile rather than cry I’m trying to remember every day, not to get distracted, stay the course, do today what I didn’t finish yesterday I’m trying to remember, to be kind, compassionate, to look at myself before I judge another I’m trying to remember that I am not alone. Everybody struggles, errs, and falls; it is part of life. It is part of learning I’m trying to remember, the blessing of having parents, even more, the blessing of Yeshua, Citlali, and Yeudel, my beloved children I’m trying to remember, the blessing of good people; of my educators; neighbors; and community I’m trying to remember, today is still ongoing, tomorrow is a wish, and yesterday a lesson -
Iâ€™m trying to acknowledge the blessings of the day: a fruitful day at work; the schoolwork finished well; simple, wholesome moments shared with friends and loved ones Iâ€™m trying to remember to rest my weary mind, close my eyes and pray, at the hum of my knowing heart -
Hidden in Me Tanya Saldivar-Ali
Who I am is not as important as the purpose that lies within each of us. I am the first American-born child of two immigrant parents who perceived the U.S. as the land of opportunity and who worked hard all their lives. I was raised in Southwest Detroit, a hidden gem amidst dilapidated buildings and rough streets. After a couple of years in an apartment on Vernor, we moved to a four-bedroom, three-story home on Hubbard Street. This neighborhood was part of the historic Hubbard Farms District. But it was on Vernor where I got my first education, in the heart of Mexican town. There, multi-generational families and tradition made for a rich heritage to be proud of. Despite some run-down houses that reflected lost dreams along the way, Hubbard was a beautiful street lined by old, large trees. One could almost hear them say, “We are rooted here and will remain here” People had the same resilience--pulling through the good and bad storms of life. I am one of those people. As a kid, I played at street corners with my friends, cooled off under the fire hydrants in the summer, and enjoyed cherry slushies and penny candy. On the same streets I first tasted fried bologna sandwiches and block cheese. The streets also shaped my first impression of the fast life: fast cars, quick cash and name-brand clothes. It was only one block away from home where I first gazed at the world of drug addicts and hookers. They seemed forgotten by the world though I know they too, were somebody’s children, as I was. Their dreams were washed up, held captive by oppression. When gangs infested our neighborhood, my life and many of childhood friends fell prey to that lifestyle. I spend most of my teenage years confused by conflicting feelings: anger, temporary happiness, despair and false hopes. Along the way, I’ve made every wrong decision one can make, exposing myself to dangers big and small. Graduating from high school became a faraway dream, and see9
ing myself in college seemed absurd. At the time, I hardly knew if I’d make it thought the day. But I moved forward, thanks to the grace and mercy of God and my 10th grade literature teacher, Ms. Harris. As we read works by Poe and Ann Frank, I related to the characters and their trials. I started to pay more attention to my own reasons and motivations in life. And when she pulled me out of ESL classes and helped me get into regular program, Ms. Harris unleashed my potential. Her gentleness pierced through the thick armor I wore on the streets. I was moved by her compassion. I realized later in life that gentleness was a strength, a power and not a weakness, as it was perceived on the streets. I began to see a future for myself and felt encouraged to explore my potential. It was a moment of impact for purpose. After high school, I chose to stay and work in Detroit, advocating for youth and adults at risk, just like myself. It was a meaningful, fulfilling job that I did well. A decade later, I became a mother, which is the most important role of my life. Passing down wisdom, godly values, and faith in God is my first priority as a mother of three sons. But in the process I’ve found that life is less about the destination and more about the journey of learning along the way. Among other things, I’ve learned that we never have to accept being a victim of circumstances: poverty, trials, or chained to our past hurts and failures. Prehaps the most important lesson I’ve learned in my journey is the value of forgiveness, how to give and receive it. The power to choose is always ours. No doubt I inherited my mother’s tenacity to survive and her unwavering moral strength. Coupled with that, I have my husband’s example of courage and commitment to our family. I am grateful that my life has been blessed by such a rich legacy, from immigration to life’s challenges and finally the hard-earned success. Education has smoothed my road to learning, from high school to college. It has empowered me to believe in myself and implicitly in my ability to give back to my community. My focus now is not just to seek knowledge but to have the courage to empower others. All people have a hidden gem–purpose-inside of them, even though on the surface they may seem ordinary or rough. We all have strengths, skills and talents that are redefined by the processes of life. There is a potential and beauty in everybody – as I once learned that I possess, hidden in me. 10
Age Is Just a Number Laura Rebollar
Two years ago, on a hot summer day, I travelled to McAllen, Texas, a place I’d never seen before. This is where my daughter moved with her husband and son, Anthony. My grandson was only five when his mom and dad relocated to Texas. I was heartbroken when he left because during the first five years of his life, I had grown very attached to him. I taught him many things. I cared for him. We spent many pleasant hours in each other’s company. One of our favorite pastimes was to eat ice cream together. Soon after my daughter moved away, she gave birth to a second boy, whom she named Mario, after his dad. At the time of my trip, I only knew that he resembled my daughter, but here I was on my way to meet him for the first time! I also knew that the whole family called him “Guero,” and I was about to find out why. McAllen is a city located at the border with Mexico, often described by the media as a dangerous city due to its drug-related crime. But that didn’t matter to me. All I cared about was to hug my two beautiful grandsons. Besides, I missed my daughter dearly, especially her positive attitude toward life and beautiful smile. I couldn’t wait to see her again! Once in McAllen, I was overwhelmed with both happiness and anxiety to see my daughter and her family. How would they be? And how would they receive me after so long? Suddenly, at the exit of the stretch of the aircraft, I spotted my grandson, Anthony. He’d grown considerably since I last saw him. His face looked energetic and at the same time it had an air of maturity about it. He was very happy to see me, too. After welcoming hugs and kisses, my grandson looked and me and said, “Grandmother, you changed.” I laughed. Of course, I had changed, especially after all that time missing him! My youngest grandson, Mario, was at still at home, sleeping. I couldn’t wait to see him, too. But at last, I was with my daughter’s family. While driving to my daughter’s home I admired the architecture in McAllen, one very similar to Mexico. In fact, it seemed as if 11
I was driving through one of Mexico’s wealthy neighborhoods: the warm-toned brick homes, the orange trees in the front yards. Memories of my native country came to mind. When we arrived at my daughter’s house, her father-in-law greeted us, holding in his arms the most beautiful toddler. Mario had light brown hair, down to his shoulders. Now I understood why they called him “Guero,” which means “blond” or “white” in Spanish. It’s unusual for a 100% Latino child to have light brown hair and eyes. That evening we all had dinner together. Among other things, my daughter served papaya, a sweet and soft fruit, which looks a lot like a Halloween pumpkin. It was so good to share a meal together and catch up with everybody. The next day my daughter invited me to come along to the elementary school where she works. As I entered the building, I felt right at home since I myself work at a school. It was almost lunchtime and students were lining up, supervised by their teachers. The school was bright and cheerful, surrounded by flower gardens and water fountains. After the tour, my daughter introduced me to her supervisor, the classroom teacher. Next, I met the assistant school leader, a Latina lady who was described by my daughter as a very nice person. But what made time nearly stop its course, right there, was the way my daughter introduced me. Her words are still audible in my mind: “This is my mom, Laura. She works for an elementary school, too. She went back to college at 36 years old. So, like my mom, I am going back to college as well.” Now, my daughter is a sweet and soft-spoken person. Yet, that day, I realized the message I had given my daughter about education made a powerful impact on her. I could read the determination in her eyes when she spoke. She was encouraged to return to school because of my example. I helped her understand the importance of a good education. That was about three years ago. I am proud to say that next year, my daughter will graduate with an elementary teaching degree.
Looking back, it was worth finding the courage to pursue my college degree in social work after such a long break from school. And I hope that whoever reads my story will be inspired to go back to college if this is what theyâ€™ve always wanted. Never get discouraged or give up hope. Age is just a number. And what you are as a person is not measured in numbers. Rather, you are measured by what youâ€™ve accomplished in your life! So, what are you waiting for? Go for it, as my daughter and I already have!
A Chance Conversation: My Story of Hope Frank Solano
Sometimes a chance conversation can change one’s life. It happened to me, while a student at Wayne Community College. I was graduating valedictorian when my counselor, Mrs. Hampton, asked me if I planned to continue my education. I didn’t consider it until that point, but her question got me thinking. Should I? Would I be able to handle it? Mrs. Hampton encouraged me to set up an appointment with the coordinator for Madonna University’s SWEEP, an education empowerment program. After another conversation that made me think of my goals, I decided I should enroll in a major university. It turned out that my decision was among the best I’ve taken in my entire life! Education not only prepared me for a profession in social work, but it also revealed to me the needs of my own community – and the desire to be part of positive change. Now, don’t imagine that attending a university is a smooth ride! I had my good and bad days, and many others in between. I had to work hard to balance school responsibilities and my personal life. As my advisor at Madonna said, “Hard work, discipline, and commitment are absolutely necessary for academic success.” He was right. I spent most of my days and evenings studying, met with tutors for various projects, and worked together with classmates and teachers. Looking back, it was all worth it. But I could have not done it without the encouragement of my family and friends. When things got rough, they all rallied around me. Many of them spoke to me about the importance of education, explaining the value that it brings in one’s life. For their kindness, every one of their names is dearly etched in my heart. Since 2007, several of my friends became students of SWEEP. Like me, some have graduated and are already making their presence known in the community. Whether through their profession,
their involvement in the neighborhoods, or talking to people about college â€“ they empower others. And sometimes â€Ś it takes a just a chance conversation with young people to guide them in the direction of success.
It Has to Come from Yourself Janice Barreto
How did I come to earn an education? The hard way. And I bet my story is not all that uncommon. Read on. Countless times I wanted to quit work. Give up the many responsibilities and stress weighing me down: wake up the children, get them ready for school, get to work in time, put in the eight hours, and then pick the children up from school, drop them to the baby sitterâ€™s house and run to a second job far from home. Every day, the same old, same old. The cycle had no end and I was exhausted. I thought to myself, I am going to die if I continue to do this, but I have to pay the mortgage and put food on the table for my family. Stress made an angry and confused woman out of me. I was a single mom struggling. Why couldnâ€™t I do more for my two boys despite the fact that I worked two jobs? No better clothing for my kids; no bikes; not once a vacation. I could barely keep them fed. And it was not fair. In desperation, I decided to go back to school in order to get a better job and earn more money. But the guilt of not spending time with my boys was already driving me crazy on top of all the stress of working too much for too little. How would I manage more? Well, read on. Ever since I was a little girl, Iâ€™ve always wanted to be a teacher. I was already working as an assistant teacher at Head Start and loving it. But I could do more than just assisting, so I enrolled in the SWEEP program at Madonna University. Classes were held in Detroit, close to my job and near my mother who now babysat the boys. She encouraged me to continue my education, as she herself was once a single mother raising three children with no help from our father. I began my classes thinking that things would get easier. Wrong. They got harder. On top of all the chaos in my life now there was homework to do! Studying and writing every night was a huge task. For five and half years more I struggled to keep food on the table, pay bills, make it to work on time, and turn in school as17
signments, too! At times I thought that I must have lost my mind to take upon myself all of this. It was the toughest time of my life, and I wanted to quit several times. But somehow, I stuck it out. Fortunately, I had the support of my family and the advice of a friend who said to me, “No one will tell you ‘good job’ or ‘keep going.’ You have to hear it come from yourself.” And that was what kept me going! Telling myself that I deserve better than to continue the cycle of poverty, food stamps, driving a hooptie, and paying rent to a slumlord. That was it for me! No more. I could do better! I graduated Madonna University in 2005 with a four-year degree. I am now a homeowner and have a rewarding career in Early Childhood Education. I hold the position of Center Administrator, a job that I love. Recently, I earned a master’s degree from Oakland University. I enjoy helping students and their families become successful. This can happen only by means of education – which makes good parents and good children. The struggle never stops but the rewards are boundless. I am the first one to know.
A Father’s Wisdom Alice Kirksey
My father knew the key to riches even though he was deprived. His pockets weren’t lined with silver but he had wisdom in his eyes. And what he told me, I found true: “Alice, go get an education, for none can take such wealth from you!” I’ve held his words close to my heart, but when I wanted to give in, no matter what I tried to do, I never seemed able to win. I knew I had to start somewhere. I knew I had to trust myself. So, I have asked the Lord in prayer to lift me up, and guide my way. The road to knowledge was rough and dark, but I had faith that once again the sun will shine deep in my heart. I worked. I studied. I did my best. And when my father passed away, I understood at last that neither loss nor challenge can alter what is earned. I’m thankful for my father and the wisdom he shared with me. I know now that education helps me be who I want to be.
Don’t Run from the Home You Made Mirna Galvan
I’m Puerto Rican-born but raised in Detroit, Michigan. I lived in this city all my life and saw it through the good and bad times. I remember when my dad would pile eight of us kids in his blue station wagon and take us out for a Sunday drive. Being young, going for a ride with Dad was very exciting! He always stopped by our favorite park where we could run loose and play to our hearts’ content. It was our favorite thing to do in a city that was so different then. Like many other families in the neighborhood, we didn’t have much. Raising eight children was hard for our parents and we all knew it. Yet, Mom and Dad always managed to put food on the table. Throughout the years, though, I’ve seen the city go from riches to poor and somewhere in-between. Two decades ago, if you’d drive through the neighborhoods, you would see nice houses, families with children and pets. No buildings burnt to the ground. No abandoned cars or heaps of trash lying in the street. People were proud to own their own home and prettied it up with fresh paint and flowerbeds. As far as I can remember, the city was a nice place to raise a family. You could see it in people’s faces as you encountered them on the streets, in shops, or in the park. It was a matter of pride to take out-of-town family to downtown Detroit and show them around. Restaurants were full, people walked the streets, and tourists visited the city’s landmarks. You could hear the chatter and enjoyment all around you. Can I say that about Detroit today? Honestly, I don’t know what happened to my city. I drive through the old neighborhood and for three blocks I see no homes. I go farther down and all there is left is a house or two in the worst of shape, barely standing. It tears my heart out to see my hometown like this. How can the power engine of this country, Detroit, fall in such a state? Many families have moved to the suburbs. Those left live in the shadow of poverty and crime. Gone are the days when your neighborhood was a sanctu21
ary, where everybody knew and helped each other. The days when a neighbor would knock on your door, ask for a cup of sugar and for advice on baking a cake. And with it, gone is your home – the place where you raised your children, built memories, and hoped you’d live until you die. My parents still live in the same Detroit house they first bought. They’ve raised in it their eight children, nineteen grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. My father pledged to never leave his home, no matter how bad it gets. Sometimes I sit with him on the porch and see in his face the history of our city. His face is wrinkled and dignified, framed by a head of white hair betraying many hardships. I love and appreciate him so much more in my older years. It brings tears to my eyes every time I visit him and drive through the neighborhood where I was raised. I can count on my ten fingers the houses that are left. And I pray for my old parents’ safety every night. My dad is a kind of grandfather for the neighborhood. Every newcoming and old family respects him and marvels at his ability to stay active. Most of our old neighbors have passed away or moved elsewhere. Sometimes, I wish my parents would move to a safer place. But my father categorically refuses. “Don’t run from the home you made!” he says. “You die in that home!” I understand what he is saying. You don’t abandon what you worked hard for, what you put your heart into. This is good advice for the city, too. Detroit is still a good place to live in if only people stay the course and see it come out of the darkness. Like my father, Detroit saw a great deal of hardship but has a strong, stubborn spirit. It’s my hometown and that of my children – and one day it will be the home of my grandchildren! Never leave the home you made.
Be and Do Your Best Emma Aviles
I’ve always been encouraged by my family to continue my education. As a non-native speaker of English and undocumented student, it was difficult for me not only to go to college but also to get through college! Often times, I felt as if my voice was soundless because of the language limitations. Add to that the social misconception that people like my family and I who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without papers are troublemakers. But that very misconception served as a motivation to earn my college degree by twenty-two years old. How? Well, after many sacrifices. Pregnant with my older daughter at only nineteen, attending school full time, and working – that was my background. Then, pregnant with my second daughter at twenty, attending school full time, and dreaming of getting my U.S. legal work permit – that was part of my story, too. My parents constantly pushed my siblings and I to do our best, move forward in our lives. At the same time, they taught us to help others get ahead and share the encouragement that we were fortunate to receive. I was raised with the notion that no matter what, I would achieve my academic goals and I would become a productive member of my family and community. Despite my parents’ limited formal education, their solid values and everyday actions were the best lessons I received in life. Their example served as the guiding light of my journey. And the journey certainly had its challenges! For one, I was the teenage girl who, like other girls her age, wanted everything her way and right away. When things didn’t pan out, I kept asking – why? Why? Why? Thank God for my mother, who was always there to calm me down and reason with me. It was during our long conversations that I learned to discern the important aspects of life: education, family, good health. I’d be sitting down on the floor and listening to my mom explain things. I seldom defended myself because I knew she was right. I have fewer memories of my father, since he died shortly after I turned four. But I know from my mom that he had very high 23
expectations for all of his children. She told me about the many things my father could do with only a first grade education. She described in detail his unwavering trust in his children’s success through hard work; the way he assured our elementary teachers that he could provide everything that we needed, though he wasn’t rich. “Give the scholarships to children less fortunate. I can take care of my own,” he said. He was right! It was the good values that he and my mother instilled in us, not money, that really prepared us for success. I was taught to appreciate the blessings given to me by God and our Lady of Guadalupe; to give thanks to all the people in my life who helped me accomplish my goals; to live without regrets and keep working hard – be the best that I can be!
Sometimes the Best Lesson Is a Bought Lesson: You Determine How Much You Pay! Venus Crooms
Ever since I was a little girl, my father encouraged me to get a good education. He saw to it that I attended private Catholic schools and did everything in his power to nurture my love for learning. He and my mother believed that in life there are things that no one can take away from anyone. Faith in God, love of family, and education are such things. With my parents’ support, I attended Catholic grade school and high school. I graduated in 1985 planning to earn the college education that my parents and I hoped for. I was to find out the hard way what a journey that would be! Sometimes the journey is happy, other times less so, but it’s always adventurous! I enrolled in the Chicano Boricua Program at Wayne State University, interested in learning about other cultures and peoples. I was excited and ready to work hard. My parents sent me off that very first day of school with a good breakfast and many words of encouragement. My father, in particular, told me how proud he was of me for taking on the responsibilities of a college student. “You can succeed in whatever you put your mind to. I have confidence in you,” he said. I attended school for two years successfully, when I made the mistake of getting a job. Since my parents supported me, I really didn’t need to work. But at the time, I felt that I liked to be more independent, have my own money to buy the things that I wanted. I began taking on more hours at work, and predictably, as I earned a little more, I started slipping in my studies. Not long after, I had to drop one class and barely made it through the others. Eventually, I stopped going to school all together. Despite abandoning my education, I worked for several companies and was promoted. My parents let me learn my own life-lessons, though privately they hoped that I’d return to school. “Promise me you’ll go back,” my father said. “I’ll be pushing you even after I 25
leave this earth. Please, don’t waste your God-given potential.” What changed things yet again for me was my job as a debt collector. I loved the work and was good at it. But this was the first time I encountered extremely rude people and heard profanities on the job. I realized at that point that I had been very sheltered in my life. After being called names, threatened daily by customers, and even assaulted by my own manager, I ended up unemployed. I learned rather quickly that getting another job, even with some schooling and work experience, is not easy. I was either over- or under-qualified, and for the first time, desperate about my overall situation. One day, I sat on the edge of the bed with my head in my hands. Tears filled my eyes as I thought of the state of my life. Both my parents had died by then. I was a single mother, with many worries pressing on my shoulders. And I had no job, no college degree, and no means to support my child. What was I going to do? Who was going to offer me some advice and support? I felt helpless. Suddenly, I smelled the scent of gardenia. My mom wore gardenia fragrance sometimes. It’s a sweet, flowery scent. And it felt as if her hand just rested on my shoulder, ever so gently. Startled, I looked around the room. My son was at school so I was all alone at home. Could I be dreaming? Could I be losing myself in my troubles? A second later, I felt as if someone squeezed my hand, and I heard clearly my father’s voice: “Go back to school. It’s time for a new adventure! I told you, we’d always be here, pushing you!” As if nudged by a force greater than myself, I grabbed my laptop and calmly attempted to search for colleges in Michigan. The laptop suddenly blinked “on” then “off” and then, oddly, “on” again. The SWEEP program’s website filled the screen. I read on, and the more I read, the more elated I became. This program was meant for me! All I had to do was to enroll. With the schedule that was offered, I could still work and attend the program. And I could finally fulfill my goal and that of my parents: complete my college education. I remembered in particular the words of my dear father: “Sometimes the best lesson is a bought lesson. You determine how much you pay.” I believe that God and my parents’ faith in my potential led me to Madonna University’s SWEEP. I enrolled in the program, found 26
a job, and picked up right from where I left off. As we speak, Iâ€™m on my way to earning my degree and securing a stable future for my son. Most importantly, I am learning a life lesson that will pay for itself over and over again! For those of your reading my story, please remember: No one can take your education away from you!
A Sister’s Love Pushed Me Debra Foreman
One Sunday in 2002, I was chatting near the media room of our church with my older sister, Shirley, and my niece, Monica. It was a beautiful summer afternoon and gospel music was playing in the background. The melody was so moving that it filled my eyes with tears. Shirley noticed and asked if I was all right. “I’m fine,” I said. “But I feel that something or someone is holding me back from what God is calling me to do. I have all these dreams of learning more, exploring possibilities, and growing in my knowledge and my faith. Yet, I don’t know if I should pursue them.” Shirley gently replied: “Debra, don’t you let anything or anybody hold you back. Return to college to earn your degree, if this is what you want. No one can stop or keep you from fulfilling your dreams.” I half-nodded in agreement as we walked out of church and into the bright sunlight. But Shirley could see that my mind was still preoccupied. She put her arms around my shoulders and whispered, “Debra, you have so much potential. Don’t be afraid to test it. And don’t worry about what other people think about you. Go and fulfill the gifts and talents God has bestowed upon you.” With my sister’s encouragement, I felt uplifted and went about my day. I kept thinking of what she said, knowing deep inside that she was right. I thanked God for having a sister like Shirley, who understood my most intimate thoughts and believed in me. Forward several years later, now. It’s Sunday, and I have been called to preach at the 8:00 a.m. service. The church is packed with family and friends, all ready to hear the Lord’s word through me. Our pastor has already announced that Sister Shirley Stewart will be introducing today’s preacher -- me! I’m sitting quietly in this big chair as Shirley comes to the microphone for the introduction. She tells the congregation that when I was a child, I was filled with the Holy Spirit. She recalls how I would go to tent revivals all over the city with my brother, Kirk, 29
in tow -- like two little ducks. Then, Shirley mentions my accomplishments: the two-year degree I earned, the certificates in caregiving and Christian counseling. She tells everyone that Iâ€™m still a student at Madonna University, finishing my undergraduate degree. I hear the pride in her voice as she speaks. My eyes fill with tears of joy. God has prepared me for this day! As I rise up and walk to the microphone, my heart fills with a warm confidence and joy. I understand at this moment why my sister had been pushing me to fulfill my dreams. Education leads to vocation and vocation leads to happiness. Thanks to her, I am now further in my learning journey. It goes to show what a push of love can do. Love you back, big sister -- and thank you with all my heart!
Tio’s Advice Lourdes Jasso
My most precious memory is my childhood in Mexico. I lived with my grandmother, right next-door to Uncle Raul and Aunt Sara. Their home was beautiful, with large windows and marble floors. We’d often spent time together in their comfortable living room, watching our favorite shows on their television. One year, for a televised parade program in Mexico City, we were all invited to my uncle and aunt’s house. There was family over and many friends, for whom my aunt prepared several treats: crunchy popcorn, sweet deserts and fresh lemonade. She was a very particular lady who liked company but kept a Spartan-like, clean house and a tight grip on things. We had to take our shoes off to enter her home, but once inside, we always had a good time. Uncle Raul was more laid-back, a friendly and very handsome man. We all adored our tio! On the day of the parade, I remember watching on the big screen the marching band of the Escuela Comercial or Academy of Commerce. The students were playing their brass instruments and walking rhythmically with the beat. It was just wonderful! Suddenly, my uncle asked me if I ever thought about my future. I remember clearly the endearing way by which he addressed me: “Chaparrita (in Spanish this means “shorty”), what would you like to do with your life?” I replied that one day I would like to be a student at the Academy, and right there, smack in the front rows of the marching band, playing my instrument. My uncle said that if I really wanted to go to that particular school, pretend to take a picture of that image of me as a student, and place it in the back of my brain. “Don’t forget about the picture,” he added. “Do the same with all your dreams and work hard to fulfill every one of them.” That was my, tio; you know? He was softspoken but always thoughtful. The wisdom of his advice is that dreams never end, and so the dreamer never stops imagining and working in order to achieve. So far, some of my dreams have come true. One that I’m still working on is to earn my four-year college degree. Sometimes, 31
I feel as if I’m running against Mr. Time, but I’m not giving up. And to all of you reading my story, I tell you to remember my tio’s advice: take a mental picture of the life you’d like to live and work hard in the direction of that dream. God will give you what you need to succeed. You only need to show up and do what it takes!
Angel Is His Name Mirna Galvan
Let me tell you about him: his white skin glistens in the night like a star; he is beautiful and kind, and makes everything all right – Angel is his name. Fine lines around his eyes tell the story of his life, but his gentle smile can brighten the way even on a cloudy day – Angel is his name. He gives to others all he has without being asked twice; isn’t that nice? He wakes up with a great big smile and always walks that extra mile with joy in his heart – Yes, Angel is his name.
A Work in Progress Bernadine Martin (Mask-Davis)
Everyone has a story to tell. Here is mine. I experienced a great deal of trauma at a very early age. When I was three, I witnessed my mother shooting my father during a domestic violence dispute. Luckily, he survived. One year later, she kidnapped me from my father. At fifteen, I was slammed to the curb by a jealous boyfriend and left for dead. Later, I met another young man, sweet and kind, who cared for me and even paid for my training at a modeling school. This young man was killed right in front of me on the street. I had to be the eyewitness in his murder case. During the trial we all learned that the killer had murdered two other men and hid their bodies in his basement. After all of these gruesome experiences, I was left emotionally damaged. I felt vulnerable and confused and, at the same time, very angry. I hated people and imagined all the terrible things they would be capable of doing. At my lowest, I attempted suicide. Three times. At my best, I was numb from pain. To complicate matters, and despite my fragile mental state, I married. I lived in a domestic violence and substance abuse household. The cumulative mental, emotional, and physical abuse I had experienced destroyed my self-esteem and nearly disabled me. No longer did I have a sense of self, though I searched for answers, for a way to save myself. Fortunately, I was medically evaluated and got the help that I had needed for so long. This was the light at the end of a tunnel filled with darkness. Gradually, I was led out of my self-destructive life â€“ one filled with self-hatred and self-pity. Ever so slowly, I learned that I could heal and that I was given a one-time chance to change my life. A good man also entered my life at that time: James Martin. He stood by me, listening and helping, as I worked hard to get stronger and stronger. Martin, a man filled by faith in God, understood that I was on the path of healing and deliverance from pain. With his 35
steady encouragement, I became an overcomer, a survivor. News flash, readers! I have returned to school and earned my GED. Most recently, I have enrolled in an empowerment program for women at Madonna University (SWEEP). I’m working very hard to prepare for a career in social work. My life’s purpose is to reach back into the community and pull up women who undergo struggles similar to mine. I just love school and learning. When I was told that I had achieved a 4.0. grade-point average, I screamed with joy and then had a good cry. Could this be me? Yes. It is. I stand testimony that miracles can happen, that the human spirit can overcome. In Jeremiah 29:11 we read, “For I know the thoughts and the plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome.” These words speak for me. I am hopeful. Grateful. Trusting in good things to come. I am Bernadine Martin, and I call myself a work in progress.
A Minister’s Reflections Jacquelyn Jones
Often times we talk about what leads us to school. But less often do we talk about what happens after we graduate. Even less so do we talk about the way education colors every aspect of our lives. I learned just that in 2004 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That year, which was the year of both my graduation and diagnosis, was the start of many physical and mental ups and downs. Illness. Worry. The fear of the unknown. At the time, I didn’t realize that my social work education implicitly helped me cope with the most difficult challenge of my life. As a patient at the Karmanos Institute, I found out that some people are capable of supporting you and some are not. Similarly, some family members are more supportive while others simply cannot. This happens mainly because dealing with cancer, and illness in general, is very difficult. One can’t help what one cannot understand. And sometimes, a stranger can have more sensitivity and compassion than a family member. In my case, fortunately, the cancer was detected in its early stage. I found myself fighting for survival and at the same time using the very skills that I learned in the social work classroom. It worked and I recovered steadily. Something else happened, too. By conversing with other patients and staff, by reflecting on what it means to be ill and vulnerable, I realized that I have empathy and caregiving skills. I also have a genuine aptitude for comforting and helping people, and a desire to ease their suffering. As a survivor of breast cancer, I understand. As one trained in social work, I understand. And as a human being, I understand. My personal experience also compelled me to become a religious minister. I now assist with every life situation imaginable, including reminding women to care for their health. “Getting a regular mammogram can save your life,” I tell them. Who would have thought that a formerly troubled teenage girl who went on a field trip to Madonna University would graduate from that very school? Well, that was me! I graduated from Madonna’s SWEEP program in 2004 with high honors. Even though I was 37
employed in a field other than social work, I have applied the skills that I learned in my program to every life situation. Whether academic knowledge or social classroom skills, theyâ€™ve all been useful in my professional and personal life.Â I thank God for the chance I was given to learn and for the good people that enriched my education at Madonna!
Writers’ Biographies Emma Aviles-Rodriquez Emma Aviles-Rodriquez graduated from Madonna University and the SWEEP program in May 2013. She received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. As a mother of two girls (a two-year-old and a three-year-old), her degree is a great accomplishment, but she cannot define it as her full success. Currently she works as the Springwells Village College Access Network (SVCAN) Coordinator. Her passion is to find better opportunities for other students to be successful. Emma understands how difficult it is to overcome obstacles to achieve her goals, but she believes that her faith in God and Our Lady Guadalupe can make everything possible.
Donnie Barnes Donna graduated from Madonna University’s SWEEP Campus in 2004. She retired from Vistas Nuevas as a family service worker. She is a pastor’s wife, encouraging youth with challenges. She was residing in Southwest Detroit when she graduated from the SWEEP program with honors.
Janice Barreto Janice was born in Puerto Rico in 1972 and brought to Detroit when she was six months old. She was raised by her mother in Southwest Detroit after her parents’ divorce. Janice graduated from high school, got married and had her first son in less than one year. After working odd jobs here and there, she began working at Vistas Nuevas Head Start in 1996. She enrolled at WCCC for night classes. She then transferred to Madonna University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2005. Janice later earned a master’s degree from Oakland University in 2012. 39
Venus Crooms Venus is a native Detroiter. The persons she most admires are her father and mother, although they are now deceased. The opportunities she was given and the lessons she was taught by her parents have helped her persevere in the face of adversity. She is happy that she could fulfill her father’s dying wish for her future. She has a 12-year-old son, Randall. She is amazed by him every day. Her hobbies are jewelry and journal making, and sewing. Venus is pursuing her bachelor’s degree.
Debra Foreman Debra was born in Detroit, Michigan, and raised on the west side of the city, where the Olympia Stadium once stood. She is equally proud of her Indian and Haitian heritage. She is the fifth child out of twelve siblings, and a single mother of two wonderful sons and eight grandchildren. Debra works as an assistant teacher at a local Head Start Program, and she runs her own nail salon on Detroit’s east side. A SWEEP student, she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Child Development. Debra is also planning to earn a master’s degree in theology.
Mirna was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She is a mother of two children, Benjamin and Salina. She resides in Detroit with her children. She decided to go back to school to study Early Child Development. In May of 2005, she graduated with a bachelor of science degree from Madonna University’s SWEEP program. She is currently working in Southwest Detroit, giving back to the community as a Head Start teacher.
Lourdes C. Jasso Lourdes has four children and eleven grandchildren. She was born in Mexico City and raised by her grandmother, who taught her the value of education. Lourdes moved from California to Detroit and was married in 1970. She works for the Detroit Public Schools system. Lourdes started attending college in order to motivate her grandchildren and the students whom she works with. Lourdes is a happy person in her own way because of what she has accomplished, what she is accomplishing, and what she will accomplish. She prays that the Lord gives her time to realize her dream.
Jacquelyn Jones Jacquelyn is currently an associate minister at Galilee Missionary Church. She is a Sunday school teacher for ages 18 -35 year olds. She also is active in the homeless ministry and the prison ministry at her church. She takes classes in her church to one day become a dean in the Baptist Convention. Her hope is to open a home for women who have been released from prison. Her role model was her grandmother who went home to be with the Lord, May of 2012. Jacquelyn has two sons and three grandchildren.
Alice Kirksey Alice is presently a student at Madonna University’s SWEEP campus. Her goal is to obtain her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Development. She currently teaches at Head Start. She enjoys working with the children, who will make a difference in the world someday just because they got a head start.
Bernadine Martin (Mask- Davis) Bernadine was born in Gary, Indiana, and came to Detroit in 1966. She attended public school on Detroit’s southwest side and earned her High School Equivalency (GED). She has two sons, two daughters, one adopted son, and seven stepchildren. Christ called Bernadine to the Gospel as an evangelist of Jesus Christ in May 2000. In addition, she created a non-profit organization, Building Better Adults (BBA), to help inner-city youth. As a community health worker, Bernadine works with mothers and their babies in southwest Detroit. This led her to Madonna University’s SWEEP program to study social work.
Laura Rebollar Laura works for an elementary academy as a community liaison. She attained a bachelor’s degree in Social Work in 2008 through Madonna University’s SWEEP program. She earned her degree after attending for ten years, all the while taking care of her three children and working full time. Laura’s determination and courage helped her to overcome language barriers in order to attain her degree. Laura was born in Michoacan, a Mexican state. She immigrated to the USA with her husband in 1979, and in 1996 she became widowed. She proudly raised her three children on her own.
Maria “Mia” Ruiz Mia has served as the call center operator, since 2007, at Covenant Community Care, the community’s health clinic. She has also attended Madonna University’s SWEEP program since 2012. Her strong drive enables Mia to balance the responsibility of a single-parent household, full-time job, part-time education, and her own business. Maria considers herself “very fortunate. I can appreciate that Madonna University’s SWEEP program offers a remarkable light to ensure the personal, spiritual and intellectual long-term rowth I have always envisioned.” 42
Tanya Saldivar-Ali Tanya is presently working on her Community Leadership Certificate through Madonna’s SWEEP program. She plans to attain her bachelor’s degree, from Madonna, in Communication with a Public Advocacy focus. Tanya and her husband of 14 years have three sons: Xavier, Joel and Israel. She is also involved in the Women of Virtue ministry at her home church, Detroit World Outreach. In addition, she has helped her husband build his construction company, which recently moved its offices into SW Detroit, where they both grew up. They plan to give back to the community and create jobs.
Francisco (“Frank”) J. Solano Frank graduated from SWEEP in 2010 with honors, earning a bachelor’s degree in social work. He was born in Southwest Detroit in a family of 15. Frank is an honorably retired Detroit Police Officer whose career was cut short by a head injury. It took a lot of time to get his mind and soul to work as one. Frank has also been a professional musician for the past 40 years, having produced eight CDs of original music. He and his wife Rosario were awarded the Spirit of Detroit Award for their commitment to their Southwest Detroit community.
Reflections on Our SWEEP Experiences Frances E. FitzGerald, project co-director
My first experience with SWEEP was in 2004. I drove down to present a workshop on using sources correctly. Five or six middle-aged women attended my presentation. Unlike many of the younger students I worked with on the Livonia campus, these women were not afraid to speak up. Their questions were smart and direct—just like they were. My relationship with SWEEP has continued. I taught WRT 1000/1150 one fall semester, and I usually tutor one night a week there. I continue to hear powerful stories. One student recalled returning from Bible camp the summer of 1967, seeing the destruction of the riots, and wondering if the country was at war. Another woman dropped out of high school, partly because her father didn’t see any value in education for women. (She is now a college graduate.) Another woman remembered that when her aunt died, her parents took in her aunt’s five children, even though they were migrant workers who already had several children of their own. These stories are a testament to our SWEEP students. They face tragedy with compassion and courage, they deal with setbacks with wisdom and humor, and they generously share their stories of sacrifice and triumph. If I’d never met them, my life would be so much the poorer.
Ioana Fracassi, editor
As editor of the Stories of Hope and Learning anthology, I understood that I had to create a welcoming space for Detroit writers: courageous women and men of all ages and backgrounds, who wished to share most generously their journeys of self-discovery. I also understood that the overall aim of the book was to serve as a medium of clarity through which others can find themselves – a means to reaffirm human potential and the transforming power of education. Yet, only when I read the first submissions – a tangled garden of anecdotes, tales, and something in between, I understood its real 45
value: frank, perceptive, authentic stories – expressed in prose of astonishing realism. At times, I felt like an explorer who needs to cut her way through the wilderness of ideas. But the more I travelled into the stories, the better I grasped the interiority of voices, images, and words. Sometimes they were slung at me like hatchets: passionate, explosive – other times, vulnerable and devastatingly beautiful. As I trimmed, adjusted, filled in – the stories began to synchronize around a theme. They told how lives once fragmented, burdened by the demands of living in the city, were made whole again by education. They revealed the dark abysses of poverty, injustice, and despair, but also the joyous peaks of childhood, family, and learning. In every one of them, I found profound honesty and humility – as well as a sort of raw poetry pushing from behind the explicit language. Stories of struggle and achievements by Detroiters make for writing of consequence. It is writing that inspires, that transforms and deserves to be read. It is writing that doesn’t need to be distilled into art, but holds its own, authentically. It’s been my privilege to prepare the material in this anthology for the public audience, and above all - to enjoy it first-hand as reader. I thank the students who placed their precious truths in my hands. I also thank my colleagues at Madonna University whose vision and wholehearted dedication made this anthology a true project of love.
Mary Minock, workshop leader
First off, I am proud to say that I am a native of Southwest Detroit, and also a current resident. There’s no place like our neighborhood—full of warm, resourceful, intelligent individuals, who have the knack of seeing the beauty in our urban surroundings. I started teaching at Madonna University in 1997, and in the early 2000s, I jumped at the opportunity to teach writing courses for the SWEEP Program. During the years I did so, I collected remarkable stories from my students—stories of hope and struggle, along with other writing projects that continue to remain useful to me—a complicated but exquisite recipe for chicken mole, a paper on the care of house plants, and many others all come to mind. I’ve also taught literature courses at SWEEP, and I continue to appreciate the wisdom and life experience that my SWEEP students have 46
brought to their reading of literature. I was delighted to have been asked to join the current project, Stories of Hope and Learning, as a workshop leader. I not only got to meet with former students again, but to meet current students and graduates who I’d not known before. I feel honored to have worked with them during the early stages of writing their unique stories.
Tia Silva, project co-director SWEEP is a place, a program, a community of learners hungry for an education, a specially formed family of brothers and sisters who see it as a gateway to an enlarged vision of themselves...and a place I’ve been privileged to call my work home for the past nine years. SWEEP is a true model of what it means to live one’s faith through one’s values, and to walk side-by-side with students, coaching them through their college journeys until they reach their goal of earning a college degree. It takes plenty of self-discipline, determination, sacrifice, and confidence to pursue academic dreams despite the financial setbacks, personal obstacles and lack of support one may face on a daily basis. Yet, I’ve witnessed first-hand how students will drag themselves in, sick, tired, hungry, and cold from having taken three buses to get to class. They will form impromptu study groups when teachers don’t make it to class due to inclement weather. They give each other rides, share books, and even watch each other’s children or make chicken soup for sick classmates. They model for the future generations what it means to go after your dreams so that your family can benefit. For several semesters, I’ve taught Writing Review/Workshop to several of the SWEEP students and have always found their stories to be realistic and compelling, raw and beautiful, vulnerable yet powerful. Naturally, we wanted to capture a glimpse of that magic in an anthology along the lines of the first edition, Women of Southwest Detroit, published in 2004. I appreciate the students who opened themselves up, not only during the course of the project, but also during their college journey. 47