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Thank you to Echoes of Incarceration, Jacobia Dahm, and Salvador Espinoza for their photos.

Voices from See Us, Support Us: Sunovia S. Scudder

At the age of one, I was considered to be a “ward of the court.” Throughout my life, I have been neglected by both of my parents who struggled with substance abuse and incarceration. I was put into two foster homes until my aunt eventually gained custody of me. Since then, I have lived with her, and she has taught me many valuable lessons in life. She always made a way to put food on the table, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head, whether that meant our lights would be out for a couple of nights. She was a single parent with her own child, my mother’s three children, and her disabled mother. She was truly a superwoman. With only one income coming into our household, she made a way for us to all be content. She has raised me to be the young woman I am today. She is my idol and my definition of a woman. 

Even though I had this independent woman to look up to, I never had the emotional support most children had. After school, I never had someone there to make me a sandwich, or to check my homework, or ask how my day was. She was busy working and I was left to do it myself. This honestly has affected me all the way through college. I did not have the pressure from my family to do well in school or potentially go off to college being that no one has ever gone. It wasn’t until I went to church that I figured out my plans to further my education. 

When I was 10 years old I had the choice to go to church. During that time of my life, I was experiencing an emotional rollercoaster, questioning why I was not under my mother’s care, and asking questions like, “What did I do wrong?” or “Am I not good enough?” It was a dark time of my life so I searched for a bright light to illuminate the negativity. I attended church, never knowing who or what God was but determined to try and find it. I found a church where I still feel welcomed. Being completely honest with myself, I know that if I were not lucky enough to find this church I would be a delinquent on the street. Members of my congregation saw potential in me that I did not see in myself. They encouraged me to become someone great in life instead of a statistic. I met my godmother in church and she has influenced my life tremendously. In my junior year of high school, she sat me down and asked me, “How are we getting you to college?” At the time, I was oblivious to the college process. I did not know what a FAFSA was or how to apply for it. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do in college. Speaking to people in my congregation, they motivated me to go into something I will enjoy for the rest of my life. Going to church increased my faith in God, and myself. Finding God has been the best thing that has happened to me.  

Here I am today, a Black woman beating stereotypes and doing things people would have never expected. I have traveled to Europe, I am a first-generation college student, I am paying for college out of pocket by myself, and I have gotten through one of the toughest situations there are. Throughout my life, I have never let my circumstances restrict nor define me as a person. I thank my parents, not for abandoning me as a child, but for indirectly encouraging me to be strong. If it weren’t for them, I would not be the person I am today.

As I am in the last semester of my undergraduate career at Rowan University, I finally know what I want to do once I graduate. In this past year, I have participated in many things that led me to figure out my future plans. Last October, I helped start an organization on campus called the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) which is a safe space for college students impacted by parental incarceration. As someone who has been impacted by both parents, I always tried to leave that history behind when I went to college. College was my escape from the troubles I faced at home.

 

When we started YEP, I was not sure how many people would be in the same predicament as me, but I was pleasantly surprised. This group has grown in its first year with 3 members to about 20 members. This organization has opened many doors for me this past spring. I was fortunate enough to be invited to go to Arizona to present my own research for the National Children of Incarcerated Parents Conference. I worked with another member of the Youth Empowerment Program and we conducted research on the methodological challenges researchers face when conducting research on children directly impacted. We also did research on the resilience factors college students have to “beat the odds.”

 

Today, I know exactly what I want to do as a career. I want to be an advocate for the children of the incarcerated. I want to help people who have been told they cannot be successful because they come from a poor neighborhood. I want to be able to tell them that there is more to believe than the negative stereotypes. Also, that you do not have to defined by your circumstances or the mistakes of your parents. I want to be that person I needed growing up. Like Tupac Shakur stated in his poem, “The Rose That Grew from Concrete,” “Proving nature's law is wrong it learned to walk without having feet. Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air.”

 

As long as we believe, we can do it. If we have the motivation to be successful, we can be. We are those roses that grew from concrete.