When we were growing up I would look in the mirror and I just couldn’t see what you could see. There were a lot of factors getting in my way but you didn’t let any of them blur your vision.
In school, you were really smart. You were an honor student. But when I was in middle school, reading was hard for me. School never came easy and I couldn’t focus well.
A lot of times teachers would call on me in class to read out loud. Nicely, I would try to tell teachers I didn’t want to read. Sometimes, the teachers took it as a sign of disrespect and would embarrass me in front of the entire class. Young and immature, I would feel the need to defend myself, which would get me into trouble.
One day I was working with Miss Alisha at the Boys and Girls Club and she noticed that sometimes I write letters backwards. She told me her father was dyslexic and said I had similar symptoms.
With our living conditions and our challenges at home, in high school, I wanted to give up on going to college and playing sports. But you wouldn’t let me.
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I tell people you are my twin, even though you are a year older than me. You are one of my nine sisters. You were the one who protected me and watched out for me. You cared about my education and tried to make life easier for me. After my athletic practices, you made sure I always had food waiting for me. Knowing that school was harder for me than it was for you, you wanted to make sure I could focus solely on my work.
You came into my classes and asked my teachers what I had to do to be a better student.
You would say to my teachers, “Is he doing good? Is he doing his work?”
Briana, you believed I could go to college.
You believed I could play football at the next level.
Popular, pretty and smart in school, you had so much potential. I started to think I must have something worthwhile to offer the world if someone as great as you believed in me.
That’s why I began to put in the extra work, staying after school every day to meet with teachers. When we had breaks in between our classes, the rest of the kids would run and play in the halls. I would stay with my teachers, asking questions so I could have a better understanding of the material.
Neither of us had it easy in high school but we always had each other.
You, Briana, were my motivation to work hard and succeed.
I ended up with making merit roll all four years. While I was a three-sport athlete in high school I received a college scholarship to play football as a wide receiver. Also, the Boys & Girls Club named me Youth of the Year (runner-up), which led to $4,500 of scholarship money. At school, I was awarded a trophy for Ideal Male, which is essentially being honored as a role model. It was a pretty big deal.
After high school graduation, I went to Hiram College but transferred to Tri-C. Now, I am deciding where I want to play football next. To me just getting to college and playing football, means so far in life, I have made it. And from the moment I realized I made it, I wanted to help someone else the way you helped me.
During spring break of my freshman year of college, I didn’t have enough money to go away with my friends. But you gave me so much respect for women that I decided I would take the little money I did have and spend it on food and snacks for women at the local women’s shelter.
I started a clothing company called Support The Youth. Initially, it was to make a little money so I could go back and forth from college and mentor kids in the community. People started liking the clothes so much that it is now a brand and a movement.
Regularly, I reach out to kids at the Boys & Girls Club, the same one I went to when we were growing up, giving kids advice, attention and some hope. I am also a motivational speaker and I host events to give back to the community.
I know I am still in college and I need to keep evolving and growing. Don’t worry, I have a lot of goals ahead of me. I want to be an actor and a model. Most importantly I want to succeed at everything that I do, so I can show the kids that come from where we come from what is possible.
Currently, you are in the Navy, traveling the world and getting your education. You are an incredibly strong woman. I admire you so much and I writing you simply because I want to thank you.
Thank you for believing in me.
Thank you for pushing me.
Thank you for being there for me when you were going through a tough time as well.
You are the reason when I look in the mirror, I not only see the man you knew I would become, but I am proud of the little boy in me who didn’t think he would be able to read and is now helping other kids write their futures.
I love you,