By Valerie D. Lockhart
SUN EXECUTIVE EDITOR
"God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us, in the dreariest and most dreaded moments, can see a possibility of hope." – Maya Angelou
Feelings of shame and hopelessness rained upon Danielle Stevens like a violent storm, forcing her to look within herself for a rainbow to weather the storm.
As a child, she was confronted with adult-like issues and dreaded hearing her drug addicted mother yell out, “Get out!”
“I use to feel hopeless and sad as a child,” explains Stevens, now 26. “I was bounced around from house to house and was physically abused by my older cousins. I looked out for everyone else to make sure they were okay. But, no one made me feel okay.”
While it rained without letup at home, Stevens found a rainbow of hope at school.
There she could find escape learning about women of wonder, such as Sojourner Truth, Queen Nanny, Harriet Tubman, Assata Olugbala Shakur, Rosa Parks, Mary McLeod Bethune, Nyabingi Priestesses Muhumusa and Kaigirwa who courageously overcame oppressors to emerge victorious.
These women helped to remove obstacles clearing a pathway for others to follow.
“If we have the courage and tenacity of our forebears, who stood firmly like a rock against the lash of slavery, we shall find a way to do for our day what they did for theirs,” said Bethune.
Fighting against racial, social and economic oppression, Shakur, a member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, openly spoke against the injustices. The U.S. government retaliated by filing false charges against her, which included eight related to a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike. She was convicted by an all-white jury on one count for the death of a state trooper. However, evidence revealed that no gun powder was found on her hands and none of her fingerprints on the weapon.
After the conviction, she fled to Cuba. Two years ago, the government issued a $2 million bounty on her head and place her on its “Most Wanted Terrorists” list.
Fearlessly Muhumusa and Kaigirwa, of the East African Nyabingi priestesses group, led a rebellion against German colonialists.
“(We will) drive out the Europeans,” proclaimed Muhumusa. “The bullets of the Wazungu would turn to water against me.”
Despite of being captured by the British and held in Uganda, she inspired others, like Kaigirwa, to follow in her footsteps.
Kaigirwa organized a revolt against the British, who attacked a camp in Congo. Although many men were killed, she managed to escape.
Women throughout history have faced homelessness, hunger, public humiliation, ridicule and persecution. They defied the odds, leaving ones to marvel at their heroic actions and to say, “Wow”.
For Danielle, she found herself relating to similar experiences.
“I remember coming home from school one day and seeing all of my belongings laying out in the front yard,” she recalled. “We had been evicted, because my mother didn’t pay the rent. There were other times, when I went to bed hungry. I would make sure my younger brother ate, even though I had nothing.”
With one goal in mind, Danielle persevered over the years.
“I knew that education was the key to me having a brighter future,” she said. “No one at school knew what I was going through. I knew that I wanted to be successful and finish school. I kept telling myself, ‘You’re going to be okay.’”
Although Danielle struggled to attend school, she learned lessons on endurance outside of the classroom.
“Each time something good happened, something bad would follow,” she recalled. “When I went to live with my father, I thought that I had a stable home for the first time in my life. My grades in school improved, and I was doing well. Then, one day, he told me that I had to leave. I felt like I was worth nothing. My mother would be at the drug house for a month. I would cook for people and do hair to get money to feed me and my brother. Although those around me made me feel worthless, I didn’t have a quitting spirit.”
A quitting spirit was never tolerated by Harriet Tubman.
“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there's shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going,” she reportedly told fellow slaves seeking escape.
Like Tubman, Danielle kept going.
A week before her 18th birthday, she moved out into her own apartment. If she could not find a stable home with her family, she was determined to obtain one on her own.
Working, going to school and catching eight buses to get back and forth wore her down, but it did not deter her willing spirit.
“I was determined to graduate and to keep a roof over my head,” said Danielle. “Things were going well, until one day the unexpected happened. While I was waiting at the bus stop and walked in the street to see if the bus was coming, I fell into an open manhole. A lady saw me and screamed for help. I injured my leg, while they were pulling me out. I couldn’t walk, and I didn’t know what to do.”
Just as Sojourner Truth encountered setbacks but continued on and said, “It is the mind that makes the body,” Danielle devised a new plan of action.
“My rent was paid up for two months, and I allowed my mother and brother to move in with me to help me,” she said. “I didn’t want to at first, but my grandmother convinced me that we could help each other. I couldn’t use my injury as an excuse. I had to fight. Then, my brother’s father asked to stay for a couple of days, which turned into a couple of months. I was supporting two adults, a child and myself. Then I faced another setback – an eviction notice. The landlord said that because I was the only person on the lease, we all had to move.”
Flashbacks of her childhood eviction began to emerge. But, like Rosa Parks, who said, “I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear,” Danielle conquered her fears ever more determined to reach her goal.
“It was at this point that I realized that I had to put me first,” she said. “My brother’s father had saved up his money, while staying with me. He put a security deposit down on an apartment that was just around the corner from mine. My mother and brother moved in with another relative. I was alone again. But, then my hopes were renewed, when I was accepted into Alternatives for Girls.”
Following the storm, a rainbow now appeared.
With help from the shelter, Danielle achieved her goal of getting a high school diploma and going to college.
Today, Danielle is a certified office administrator, wife and mother of two children. She encourages others to find the will within themselves to achieve their goals.
“There’s a great strength inside of everyone,” she says. “I know it wasn’t me who carried me through the storm. My experiences have taught me how to help someone else. I’m able to see brighter days that I didn’t think I would see. I tell others to visualize themselves in a better place. When you stop visualizing, you shut yourself off from a better future.”
Women of wonder continue to amaze us with their strength and courage. It is because of their endurance in the past, that we can walk on paved roads today and can weather the storm.