I am strong because I can lift my own weight. I am smart not just because I get As. I am bold because I am not afraid to stick up for my rights.
Growing up in West Dallas, I never dreamed that my life would be interesting to our country’s leaders or could inspire others. Yet, I have met members of Congress and spoken before a crowd of 500. And I believe that the voices of girls like me are powerful.
When I was five, my mother decided that she was not ready to be a single parent, so she took my sisters, my brother, and me to live with my Granny. Part of me understands why she did this. She was just not ready for kids, and she liked to party and didn’t take care of us.
Unfortunately, Granny sold drugs and ran a “boot leg” business—selling alcohol—in her home. She introduced me to drugs and alcohol, and she smoked and drank in front of us, never mentioning that it was a bad thing to do. We thought this was a normal lifestyle, and it made it hard to decide wrong from right.
My siblings and I helped Granny sell drugs and beer out of her house. We were the kids that everyone said were bad, rude, spoiled, and never going to amount to anything. Some people told us that we should move out, but we loved her no matter what.
When Granny died of a drug overdose, I was 11, and my life was headed down the wrong path. I felt as if I needed to live her life, and I did not know how to dream beyond what I was used to seeing everyday.
Amid the dark clouds, my only silver lining was my aunts, who enrolled me in an after school program at Girls Incorporated of Metropolitan Dallas. At first, I didn’t know how to respect adults, and it was hard for me to talk to kids my own age, play with them, or share toys. I thought I was already grown. Soon, however, I started expressing myself through dancing, singing, speaking, and drawing. I looked up to the older girls at the center. Girls Inc. showed me that drinking, sex, and drugs were wrong, and how to deal with peer pressure. It helped me develop a self-esteem level high enough to reach any ceiling.
Now, I mentor younger girls and am a positive role model. I am also a sophomore in college. I plan on becoming a graphic designer and running my own business called “The King’s Print and Design Company.” I know my passions and my goals are bigger than any obstacles I have to overcome.
In 2007, I traveled to Washington, DC to meet with members of Congress and their staff to share my story. At first I was nervous, but I believe the people who run our government need to know about girls like me. Telling my story made me feel important, and I hope everyone who hears it will decide to make a difference by making sure every girl who needs a safety net has one in her life.
Many girls are not as lucky. In 2006, Girls Inc. released a study called The Supergirl Dilemma. Of the more than 1,000 girls surveyed, one in ten said they didn’t know three adults to turn to with a problem. I know there are many girls out there struggling like I did growing up. Too often, adults don’t take the time to tell us that we have the potential to achieve whatever we dream, to listen when we have questions, or act as role models themselves. Every girl needs and deserves a support system in her life to balance the negative things we see around us and the discouraging messages we hear. It is up to adults to act right and give us the encouragement we need to grow up to be strong, intelligent young women.
Clarissa King attends El Centro College in Texas and is a Girls Inc. National Scholar. She was a member of Girls Inc. of Metropolitan Dallas for 12 years.
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