10 years ago. I look at this picture and remember exactly where I was going: The Bronx to see my mom, during one of the only times in my life when she was clean. I'll never understand why she chose to relapse. I threatened her, told her if she started getting high again, I would never let her be around her future grands. Told her if she loved me/cherished our relationship, she would stay clean. She didn't, and I took it personal. I always thought she got high to avoid taking care of me, therefore she didn't love me. Always felt like she was choosing drugs over me, and that I wasn't worthy enough of being loved by anyone else because my own mother (and father) didn't even want me. Took years of traumatic yet invaluable experiences to learn that I was wrong - I am loved, was always loved, will always be loved. But what I value most about being a child of neglect and substance abuse is the natural ability it has given me to understand/connect with the youth, especially girls. None of my upper-middle-class Westchester teachers ever looked at me and said, "My mother is on drugs too." or "I don't know my father either." or "I have family locked too." I relate to my kids on so many levels, not because I'm from Harlem, not even because I've been through so much, but because I give them the space to talk about what they go through and I share things that I went through too. I believe they recognize hope for themselves in my story and I recognize the highest potential in theirs. I tell them how much I love them every chance I get. I tell them how proud I am of them when they show even the slightest amount of growth. They need to hear it. In order to progress as a people, we have to know our worth. Sadly, the messages we get from the home are not always ones that say, "you are loved. you are worthy. you matter. you are chosen for greatness. you have a purpose." I certainly didn't hear those things growing up. Though they know they are queens, that little hood video I posted a few hours ago was a reminder of how much grooming/polishing our girls are in need of. It is why I remain working in this population. They are exactly who I was and still am in many ways. I love it.