April 20, 2021
by Tiffany Davis
Growing up in Bedford Stuyvesant was not easy. My mother had three children, plus custody of my six cousins. My mother was struggling, trying to keep food on the table, trying to keep the rent paid, and keep clothes on our backs. My mother was also struggling with a drug addiction. At the age of twelve I started to realize my mother would leave home to go to this house that everyone in the streets would call the crack house. This crack house was full of young men and women who would sell drugs to anyone who wanted to get high. I went to school with most of the dealers. Five days a week I would go to school, on Monday mornings as soon as I would step foot in the door, students would run up to me telling me they saw my mother go to the crack house, or other students would say, “I sold an eight ball to your crackhead mother.” My mother’s drug addiction came in between me and my education. I had no way to stay focused, everyone made fun of me. All there was left to do was yell, fight, kick, scream, and not care. I found myself alone with no self-esteem.
With no hope that I would make it out of junior high school, I managed to find one teacher who believed in me. One step at a time she rebuilt my way of thinking, she gave me more reasons to believe I was smart, pretty, and awesome. Everyday she would take an hour after school to help me with homework in any area I was struggling with. I was never the perfect teenager, but no matter what I did wrong this teacher never turned her back on me. With her help I managed to graduate from junior high. This was one of my proudest moments, and the one person I needed to support me was my mother.
My mother’s addiction took over her mind, body, and heart, and she did not make it to the ceremony in time to see me collect my diploma.Right out of junior high school I became pregnant. At the age of 14 years old I was scared and ashamed. I was worried about what people would think of me, at the same time I wanted so bad to be loved and I wanted to love back. With every breath in me I wanted to keep my baby. After graduating I lost contact with the one person I trusted. As the months went by I was eating more, getting bigger, and in so much pain. I needed so bad to see a doctor, but I was a minor, and needed an adult with me. My dad, I had know idea where he was, and my mother was sick with a drug addiction. With no support and no one to turn to I went the whole nine months, and gave birth to my son Tashawn Davis alone. At the age eighteen I gave birth to my daughter Malaezia.
I was determined to go to school. I went to a young mothers’ school for a year with my children, but it was hard. Late nights up with the children, getting them ready, worried about how to feed them. With no money, no job, nowhere to live, school didn't seem to me at the time important. I cried many nights. I wanted better for myself and my children, but I just didn't know who to turn to, or what to do.
Today I am thirty eight years old. I am a wonderful mother and a provider for my children, and I received my high school diploma in 2016. Being a mother, you want the best for your children. Everyday I'm on my children about education, and how important it is to finish school. Everytime I speak my inner person gets weak. I become sad, and depressed because I want so badly to go back to school to get a degree to show my children we all make mistakes in life, but we must learn from them and do right. Education opens the door for so much more, you can fulfill your dreams, you will feel the power of faith to know all things are possible with a great education. I realize education gives you a sense of direction.I have been a part of the Red Hook Art Project (RHAP) for twelve years. It all started when Deirdre Swords saw talent in my son Tashawn. At the time I had no idea what she was talking about. All I wanted my son to do was read, write, and count.
One day Deirdre came to my house and gave my son a one-on-one art class, and I watched my son create an amazing piece of art. From that point I knew he had a gift, but I had no way to pay this woman, or to reach out to get him art classes. Everything was so expensive. Every weekend Deirdre would take my son to her home art studio, or to Coffey Park (both located in Red Hook), and give him one-on-one visual art lessons for free. This built my son’s communication skills, his self-esteem, his grades, his behavior and, his way of thinking. My son enjoyed art classes, and Deirdre enjoyed teaching him. She would allow him to bring a friend to her art studio, and by surprise this friend had talent so she started giving classes to the both of them. Deirdre realized something needed to be done. She called me up with this amazing idea for RHAP and I told her let’s go for it. From that day on I was the parent coordinator reaching out to families in Red Hook, letting them know about the Red Hook Art Project and what we offered. I would assist with students attendance and behavior, and made sure they attended class when scheduled.
Because of budget cuts, Tashawn, along with three other “at risk” students, did not have the resources or support from their local school to prepare art portfolios for auditions to specialized high schools with art programs. As a result of Red Hook’s lack of resources, poverty, and high crime rate, there was a strong need to support the children, and to build a bridge between the two sides of what was becoming a neighborhood divided by gentrification.
What I'm trying to say, I need for everyone to hear me cry through my words, and understand me through my pain. I'm not perfect. I made many mistakes in my life, but if I would have had the support from a program such as the Red Hook Art Project when I was a child growing up in a rough neighborhood, I would have made it to school and finished on time. My two children Tashawn and Malaezia are a testimony to the benefits of the Red Hook Art Project.Tashawn went to Edward R. Murrow High School. During that time he entered Scholastic Incorporated’s Regional Art and Writing competitions, he garnered five gold and two silver medals, along with two honorable mentions. After high school graduation Tashawn attended SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology. He is now in Los Angeles pursuing a career in the illustrative arts; he also hosts a weekly radio show.Malaezia was RHAP’s second music student. With the guidance of volunteer music tutors she learned to express herself in a positive way through writing. It developed her self-confidence and allowed her to strive academically; she recently completed high school one year early.I see and know how this program can help lead a child who is at risk to a brighter future. I am now Co-founder/Managing Director for RHAP and I want so badly for this program to open doors forever. Art is not just a hobby, it can build communities and give young people a voice in the world. It can also lead to a career. When you come from a broken home all hope is gone sometimes. Fear kicks in and it keeps you away from faith. You then just give up. When you see a student shine with excitement because they belong to a strong community of ongoing supporters, it is a feeling of resilience.
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