To those who have shared their stories with me,
Growing up, I didn’t count the problems I didn’t experience. I never thought about what life would be like if I had a single-parent home. Hunger happened when I glued myself to the TV for too long. And the only words I associated with the term “race” were “Ready. Set. Go!”
When Thanksgiving rolled around my family would have a huge holiday dinner. My mother would always stand up and give what I saw as an overly dramatic speech about being thankful for food, family and some other stuff too.
In my head, I heard “blah, blah and blah.”
I thought to myself, “Can we eat now?”
Throughout my career, specifically through all of your stories that I have helped tell on The Unsealed, I have become more aware of a world beyond my own. I have learned about the challenges people face and the struggles people silently carry with them.
Angela Dennis, you got pregnant at 16 and had two parents that battled addiction. You showed me what it’s like for a woman to grow up with little to no support. As a single mother of five, you needed to fight to provide for your children and set them up for success.
Thomas Q. Jones, you are a former NFL player, a CEO of a tech company and an actor from Virginia. Amazingly, you trusted a white woman from New York that you never met to help share your story about racism. It was clear to both of us, while I care, I still have a lot to learn. Until you told me, I never thought about the idea that as a black man you wouldn’t be comfortable calling 911 if you needed help. For me, calling 911 in the case of an emergency is instinctive.
George Atkinson III, we met when you played in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns. As a local sports reporter, I covered you. When I asked you to do a story on The Unsealed, I had no idea what you would share. I saw you as a charming and kind athlete, whose father also played in the NFL. Knowing only the cliff notes about your life, I thought you had it made. So, I was stunned when you told me your late mother was schizophrenic and your twin brother committed suicide.
Anthony Ianni, you were the first division basketball player that we know of with autism. Throughout your life, you struggled with social cues and the doctors bet against you as far as having a productive and successful future. As you fought to defy the odds, I assumed you would have had all the support in the world. But you told me you were bullied by some of your peers when you were in high school. That was surprising to me. I always thought by the time kids become teenagers, they matured and no longer harassed each other.
You can call me naive but I just had a different story. And for a long time, I couldn’t see a world that I didn’t know.
Thanks to the openness and honesty of people like all of you, among many others who have shared their journeys, that’s changed for me.
Every story I have told and every letter I have helped write has opened my eyes and created compassion in my heart. I am now more aware of the hurt from racism, the hunger from poverty, the prevalence of mental illness and the mistreatment of others.
While I have endured my fair share of challenges, your stories allowed me to realize the importance of not only standing up for myself but listening to and fighting for everyone. Because of you and your stories, I realize why my mom always has tears in her eyes and shaky hands when she expresses thanks for the food on our table and the family that surrounds us. We aren’t owed our good fortune, we are simply lucky to have it.
This year, I am deeply thankful for all of you. Because of you, I am no longer that little girl living a life of subconscious entitlement but a woman feeling true gratitude. And while I appreciate what I have, I am determined to support all of you by giving to others.