On a day like today when we celebrate mothers, I want to shine a spotlight on Melanie, a strong minded woman, mom, and an advocate for many.
At times we are not raised by our biological parents due to circumstances beyond our control. Our grandmothers, aunts, uncles, teachers, or even neighbors step up and take up that role and raise us.
Melanie is one of those people. She was born in poverty-stricken, Bushwick, Brooklyn, and has defied all of the negative predictors imposed on her since birth.
Those who know Melanie would agree that she has a very tough exterior. Over the years, she has shared some of the things that many of us would be ashamed to tell others. However, Melanie has always used her story to empower others, especially young women, and most importantly, her son. It also explains why she’s so verbal, and takes no excuses from anyone.
Melanie was conceived in one of the most hateful violent crimes that any woman can endure. Her mother has no recollection of the crime, but she did know her rapist. He was from the neighborhood, a drug user, and Melanie believes is most likely dead. The baby was raised by her grandparents, and grew up believing that the young girl that would visit her was her older sister.
She got pregnant at 16 while she attended Murray Bergtraum High School. When her pregnancy became noticeable, the administration began pushing her out. In desperation, she called her fifth grade teacher and mentor, Mr. Feinberg for advice. He was that father figure that this little girl needed through out her life. He was the reason why Melanie started asking her family questions about that young woman that kept coming to try to spend time with her. He never sugar coated anything for her, and sternly informed her that the real world had no concern for her feelings. The real world only saw a young Latina, pregnant at 16, and would always judge her based on her background. He asked her if she wanted to be a product of her environment or if she wanted to reach for a better outcome. The strong minded 16 year old made the decision to reach for her goals, and since then has not turned back.
Fortunately, Melanie was able to transfer to an alternative school for pregnant teens where she doubled up on classes, gave birth, and returned to Murray Bergtraum to get her diploma.
During this time she was also enduring an abusive relationship. Repeating a cycle that is so vicious in some of our families. However, Melanie was able to get out of this poisonous situation and set out to New York University.
With a lot of effort and determination, she put herself through college and was able to get her bachelors degree while raising her little boy as a single mother. While at NYU, Melanie found the Phi Chapter of Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Inc. A sorority that promotes the advancement of women. Being around so many positive and uplifting Latinas inspired Melanie to give back and became highly involved in the community. She found a family in these women away from home.
The truth about her father’s identity was revealed to Melanie at the age of twenty. The news devastated her, and she became very resentful. She also went through many feelings of abandonment. It has taken several years for these two women to mend, and build a relationship of any sort. They had to turn their back on the past, and slowly dissolve all of the piles of resentment that are built from lies and pain.
Melanie was fortunate to have a village around that helped raise her. Her mentors, and every father and mother figure that she met along in her life has helped form the inspirational woman that she is today. On a day like today, I want to celebrate these two women — their bravery, and most importantly their willingness to heal from many years of secrecy and pain. Through determination and defiance of their painful past, love found a way to bring mother and daughter together. They have given themselves a chance to rebuild their future as a family.
She also got a masters from the College of New Rochelle, and is currently a counselor and a Dean at the Dream Yard Preparatory School in the South Bronx. Her 21 year old son graduated with his second degree from the San Francisco Arts Institute after attending Bard High School Early College in the Lower East Side attaining a HS regents Diploma and an Associates Degree. He is now going to enroll in a masters program at the New School.
I am honored to know this woman, for she is an example that no matter where you come from, what life throws at you, or what your history is, you can always reinvent yourself and make something with your life.