Letisha Vinson: A stumble worth taking

May 7, 2021

Sometimes sharing my story feels like stumbling down a flight of stairs. 

I start at the top, sharing all the good parts – like my spiritual growth and relationship with God, building my interests in the pre-med and public health field, and my deep family ties that have strengthened over time. 

But then I share about the not-so-good parts – and this is when I trip. I share about the multi-layered exhaustion I feel living through this pandemic, the self-doubt that has grown through the stages of my marriage and, ultimately, divorce, and the constant worry I have for one of my brothers who is suffering from drug addiction as well as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia diagnoses. 

For every hard part I share, I experience a painful blow as I continue to push forward through each stumble. I want to stop sharing so I can stop hurting. But I keep going because I know I have a story that many can relate to and prayerfully find resource.

I was raised by a single mom who worked multiple jobs just to keep us above water while suffering from drug addiction. To say the least, my mom was not as involved as she could have been – or dare I say should have been – especially as it relates to my education. My mom didn’t attend school meetings, award ceremonies, or parent-teacher conferences. When I was younger, I resented her for this, but, now, as a mom myself, I understand how difficult being present can be. 

Thus my grandmother and great-grandmother proxied my mom, mentoring and grooming me to be God-fearing, educated, well-rounded, and respectful. I went to church regularly, including bible camps and Sunday school. I went to school, making the honor roll as I partook in a higher-learning curriculum, participated in intramurals, and began to explore my passion through varied academia offered throughout elementary and middle school.

When my mom’s addiction worsened, my family made the difficult choice to remove me from her care and I moved halfway across the country to Massachusetts where I lived with my uncle, aunt, and their son. While they were family, I didn’t feel like I belonged.

High school was where I discovered my passion for learning and when I feel I became my true self. I tested into a school that practiced the classical-education model. We studied various languages like Latin, Greek, and French, discussed philosophy and theory, and had accelerated courses like Calculus and college preparatory studies. This educational upbringing instilled in me the belief that knowledge is power but becomes even more powerful with application. What we teach is important, yes, but I believe we should question whether the material empowers students to want to learn even more. 

Fast forward many years and now I am a divorced, single mom with two children. While my mom’s drug addiction made it hard for her to be active and engaged in her kids’ education, I work hard to be active in mine. Because I was fortunate to experience strong educational opportunities, I want my kids – and every child in DC – to have access to these opportunities as well. 

This is just part of the reason why I take pride in being a PAVE parent leader – I never forget that I have a voice and a choice in the powerful education I want for my children. And to the parent reading this, know that you TOO have a voice and a choice – all you have to do is find a way to get involved that works for you. 

No type of involvement is too small. You can pass out a flyer promoting your child’s school event. You can tweet out the concerns you have for DC schools. You can stop by the principal’s office and drop a note sharing your perspective. Or, you can share your story and your vision for an education system that will positively impact our kids.  

I should add that there’s one more reason why I share my story – even though I stumble. 

After I’m done sharing, when I’ve reached the last step, I pause, reflect, and shake myself off before I prepare to walk back up and share my story again. Often I find someone else there waiting at the bottom of the stairs, someone who is also hesitant to walk up because they’re scared sharing the hard parts of their story will cause them to stumble too. 

But you are not alone. I won’t hesitate to reach out and take your hand as my other grips the railing, check for a light that will guide us on the path, and count the steps as we walk back up together. 

I’ve tripped down the steps countless times. If sharing my story can inspire someone else to share theirs, then the walk back up seems so much more worth it. Knowledge is POWER!

By Letisha Vinson, Ward 7 PLE Board member