To those who had a rocky start to life,
During my senior year of college, I decided to run for class president. I went to a meeting in a room full of people I never met. On one side of the room were a bunch of frat guys and people in ROTC. On the other side, many girls who knew each other from their sorority. I was the only black person in that room.
I thought to myself, “I’m not getting this. Everybody knows each other.”
But I decided to go for it anyway. The other candidates promised to raise a specific amount of money for our senior class.
I said, “My name is Angel Thomas. I’ve been running boards since I was 13 years old. I was on the Youth and Adult Board of Directors for a nonprofit organization where I also managed my own firm, Hip Hub (a local music and art distribution service). I’ve raised this much money over the past couple of years, but I’m not going to promise anything. I’m just going to get out there, and I’m going to do my best.”
Doing my best has always been how I have lived. Because of that, I have come so far from where my life began.
See, I was born under horrible circumstances – pure darkness and evil.
For many years, I had no idea. My childhood was seemingly normal. Growing up, I had two loving parents. My dad was my best friend. He let me do whatever I wanted. My mother was a bit tough on me, but that’s because she wanted the best for my life. Like many other young girls, I loved Barbie and Bratz dolls.
My cousin told me I was adopted at four years old, but I don’t remember the conversation.
In the third grade, I told my mom, “Hey, my friend from school is adopted from Guatemala.”
And she responded, “You know, you’re adopted too.”
I said, “Really?”
I was never treated any differently than my siblings, as I always felt very loved.
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However, sometime after that, I started to learn more about my past. In elementary school, I found a baby book of mine. That’s where I discovered a newspaper article with the headline, “Deep December: What Child Stirs Under the Stars?”
The article said a newborn baby was found abandoned outside in an Anastasia blanket with an umbilical cord still attached on the coldest night of the year in November 1999. It said the baby suffered from severe infant hypothermia. I knew the article was talking about me, and from that moment on, I always thought that my biological mother just didn’t want me.
But that’s not what happened. It took me a little longer to find out the truth.
One night in middle school, I went to my mother’s room. She was watching the news about some court case, and I felt her energy was off.
I said, “Hey, Mom! What’s wrong? You alright?”
She responded, “Yeah, I’m OK. Just go to sleep. You have school tomorrow morning.”
Knowing she was upset about something, I told her I loved her and went to bed.
I was in therapy at the time because I was bullied at school and suffered from self-harm. My dad lived in Durham, an hour from my mother and me in Greensboro, North Carolina. Unexpectedly, he showed up at one of my therapy appointments.
I thought to myself, “Oh my, my dad is here. What did I do?”
After my mom, dad, me, and my therapist sat down, my mother picked up her purse and took out a manilla folder.
She pulled out an article and pointed to the picture of the man in the story.
She said, “That’s your biological father.”
Then, she took out a picture – which wasn’t a part of the article – and said, “That’s your biological mother.”
She told me to read the article. Hurt and shocked, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. My biological father raped my mother, who gave birth to me when she was 13 years old. My father took me from my mother and abandoned me in an apartment complex because he didn’t want people to know he was molesting my mother.
The son of the lady who found me said I was his angel. My mom kept the name because she said angels were watching over me that day. It was a miracle that I was OK.
But at that moment, I didn’t feel like an angel. I felt so guilty. For all these years, I resented my biological mother for not wanting me. And that wasn’t the case at all. Years after learning about how I came into this world, I met my biological mother – but it was tough. We didn’t have a lot in common. She previously battled drug addiction and was in and out of prison. Meanwhile, I grew up in the suburbs. Our life experiences were different.
As far as my biological father, I never met him. But one day, shortly after I learned my whole story, Child Protective Services left a note on our front door to call them. They wanted my DNA. We gave it to them, and I found out a few years later that my DNA put my biological father away for life in prison.
While I was already struggling to cope because of bullying, I simultaneously was trying to process the idea that I was the product of horrific violence. As a result, I started to act out. I talked back to my mom. I was angry. I was sad and frustrated. Luckily, no matter what happened, no matter what I did, my mother always loved me. She made me want to be a better version of myself.
Thanks to my mom, I became less of a dreamer and more of a doer.
She encouraged me to get good grades and be a leader.
See, at first, I was one of those kids that sat at home, ate up all the food in the house, and didn’t do anything.
When I was in sixth grade, my mom said, “Just get in the car.”
I responded, “OK, Where are we going?”
She told me I was joining an organization called The Chosen 50, which aimed to develop young leaders in Greensboro, North Carolina, where we lived. I was a shy, reserved kid. I barely spoke.
In an interview, the organization asked me, “if you had to be one color, what would you be?”
They said I could only pick one, to which I responded, “Well, that doesn’t make any sense. I’d be a rainbow because I’m not limiting myself.”
They said that answer is why I got into the organization. After that, I started to build confidence, try new activities, meet new people, and make connections. I became a leader and mentor in my community, getting involved in many other organizations. In fact, in 2018, I was nominated Miss Teen Greensboro and was first runner-up in Miss Teen North Carolina.
My mom also played a significant role in my academics. If I ever struggled with a class, she was at the school talking to the teacher and helping me work through any challenges. Also, my mom is the one who told me to become a pilot, suggesting I attend T. Wingate Andrews High School. Despite years of bullying in middle school, I made many friends in high school and began to plan my future. On my first day, I saw a poster advertising Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Right away, I knew that’s where I wanted to go to school. Many people told me not to bother because it was so expensive, and I would need to take out loans. But I knew if I did my best, I would find a way to do it. I’d be OK.
And sure enough, I was right, and ultimately, I attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
During the first few semesters of college, I struggled as I realized I didn’t want to be a pilot. I switched my major to aeronautics with minors in business and safety. That’s when I started to excel at school. By my senior year, I got my GPA up, and that’s when I ran for class president and won!
Despite not knowing anyone else in that room, I won!
We raised about $10,000 in three months with only four fundraisers. Ultimately, I graduated from college. Now, I work for Amazon as a workplace health and safety specialist.
Long term, I would like to start either a business or nonprofit that helps other people. I am proud to say I am doing very well in life.
While I don’t know where you are in your journey right now or how you feel at this very moment, if you’re someone who is hurting, I want you to know everything is going to be OK. Always stay true to yourself and stick to your path. Lean into the people that love you, support you and want you to be happy and succeed. Don’t worry about what anybody outside of your circle says or thinks. Your past is a part of you, but it’s not something that defines you. It’s another steppingstone that you have to walk over. But once you walk over, it’s behind you.
At times, like me, you may need to sit with your emotions. Let yourself feel them.
But then, ask yourself, “What can I do to get to that next step? What can I do to feel better? And how can I positively deal with these emotions so that they don’t keep resurfacing?”
One day, I had to sit down and have a talk with myself, addressing the darkness surrounding my early life.
I said to myself, “You had nothing to do with what happened. Yes. It was so bad. But out of that terrible thing that happened, a beautiful and strong person – an Angel – came to be.”
I am not my biological father – And on the day I had this conversation with myself, I decided I would always be the opposite of him by adding love to people’s lives.
While I am only 22 years old, I have learned from my story that no matter how dark your past may be, if you do your best, you can always be the light that the world needs.
With love, hope, and happiness,