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Being Unemployed Made Me Better

Workin' Girl

As I write this, the MARTA whooshes by my bedroom, so close that if I leaned over my balcony, I'm sure that I could touch it.


Cars slosh through the rain, the sound echoing loudly against my window, and the steady rumble of cargo containers being stacked on top of one another in the adjacent train yard have become a soundtrack of sorts, playing a harsh melody outside my window all hours into the night.

A year ago, I would've complained.

I would've found a way to move out abruptly in hopes of finding a bit more peace and quiet — I would've desperately sought comfort. But today, I'm just thankful to be able to afford a place of my own to live. Today, I'm reminded just how blessed I am to be able to say that.

But you didn't come here to hear about my apartment. You came here to hear my rags to riches story, though I'd say the riches are in the knowledge that I've gained, not in the paychecks that I've acquired. Perhaps, like me, you were once unemployed and desperately seeking respite from your daily struggle, and have lived to tell the tale. Maybe you just started on that journey, maybe you're still on it, and there's a deep feeling of loneliness as you fight through your situation quietly in hopes that nobody knows just how real life has gotten for you.

To you, I say, there would be no testimony if there wasn't a test.

And while our level of struggle and sacrifice may differ, the commonality is that it's a mental, emotional, and spiritual battle that will challenge every part of your being. But if you get your mind right, it will transform you in a way that you would never imagine.

Why I Left LA

I've previously talked about my move to Los Angeles, so I'll hit the fast forward button and press pause where I was just five months ago — curled up on my bed in a rented room in Granada Hills. I shared a house with six other men and women, majority of which were 20-30 years my senior. At $600, it was the cheapest thing I could find.

Ironically, December 2017 was the month that I made the most money since my move to LA, but only because I picked up as many catering shifts as possible. I traded in Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve with my family just to earn double my normal pay rate.

The reality of the situation hit me hard when I realized that I wasn't serving wealthy
people because I wanted the extra money, I was doing it because although that
month was a feast, I knew famine was just around the corner.

Despite having multiple clients ranging from corporate contracts to individual projects, my freelance gigs were unreliable — I often went weeks without being paid on time, which resulted in deep anxiety whenever another bill notification hit my inbox. I was juggling five catering companies, freelance gigs, dog sitting, and background acting in hopes that if one failed, the other would cover me. Meanwhile, I was applying for full-time jobs, but as far as I know, my résumé never made it past the inbox and into a recruiter's hands.

This situation had gone on for months, and I did my best to keep my head up and a smile on my face — not because I was being fake, but because I knew that there were people in worst situations; I didn't feel I even had a right to complain. I couldn't blame my situation on anybody but myself, poor decisions that I'd made, and the miscalculated risks that I decided to take.

But that day I had finally reached a point where I was tired of being strong. I finally stopped fighting back the tears and allowed myself to cry.

In all honesty, it wasn't the circumstances that was the final blow, it was the realization that I wasn't even doing work that I was passionate about. My dreams had been pushed aside while trying to survive, and with the exception of one or two projects, I was taking on work just to earn a paycheck.

The death of a dream is worse than the struggle to achieve it.

I constantly ran into and worked with people who moved to the city with a dream in their heart and light in their eyes just for it to become extinguished once they stepped on the hamster wheel. LA was La La Land. Despite what Instagram showed, people were surviving, not living, and I could see myself slowly following in their footsteps as I gasped for air in attempt to stay afloat.

I knew I wasn't going to drown, but I also didn't see sense in swimming against the current when there was a better path to take. After speaking with a couple of friends, I knew what I had to do. But it required me to swallow my pride, to be willing to look as if I'd given up, pack my bags, and return back to the east coast to get my shit together.

With little hesitation, I sold everything that didn't fit in my car to help cover my relocation costs, and journeyed back home.

Back To Atlanta

I hit the road in January. Before I left, I had a plan to move to Atlanta and hit the ground running with my job search. However, my housing situation fell through a week prior when someone backed out on renting me a room. I arrived in Atlanta just a couple hours into my birthday, but I wasn't there to stay. I didn't have the money to lease an apartment, and this time I refused to move without a job, so instead I drove to North Carolina to live with my grandparents in Hertford — a small town outside of Elizabeth City.

I arrived with just a couple hundred dollars to my name.

I was still freelancing, but payments weren't coming in on time. Bills were getting paid late, and late fees were being tacked on. I wasn't paying rent, but I was (and still am) five-figures in debt, and just to pay the bare minimum, I needed at least a rack coming in every month, but with the exception of the clothes I was selling on Poshmark, I was bringing in zero.

I had already been applying for jobs since December, but I kept getting rejection emails. I shrugged it off because I've had to hustle before. I was used to putting in a ton of applications before getting a positive response. What I wasn't used to was not getting any positive responses. For two months, to be exact.

I continued to apply for jobs. Any job. I signed up for temp agencies. I put in applications at Planet Fitness, Applebees, wherever. Minimum wage in North Carolina is only $7.25, certainly not enough to cover bills even working full-time, but I was desperate. Yet nobody was hiring, and because I wasn't in Atlanta, it was hard for me to even be considered for jobs with temp agencies. I kept getting rejection emails, despite my résumé being pretty stacked.

If there was any little bit of ego left in me, it died every time I pressed the send button.

By this point, I was stressed as hell. I wasn't sleeping well, partly due to waking up in the middle of the night with large, unexplainable bites covering my body. Even at home, I wasn't comfortable. I was trying to keep my head up, but it was a struggle, and there were days when I didn't even want to get out of bed. I would watch everybody live their best life on the 'gram, and eventually decided to remove social media off my phone so that I could focus on my own life and not on people's false realities.

One day, after deep reflection, instead of moping about, I went into prayer, praise, and worship.

I chose to find positivity in my situation and thanked God for things not being worse.

I let Him know that I trusted Him, and that despite the circumstances, I knew he'd never leave me nor forsake me. I needed to depend on Him and not on the world.

I put work behind my faith and revamped my résumé and cover letter three times until they were fleeky. I only applied for jobs in Atlanta that I really wanted — I didn't want to repeat the past by taking jobs just for a paycheck, only to end up in a toxic work environment.

My situation hadn't changed, but my mindset did.

I no longer questioned my worth with every rejection, for my value didn't lie in my degree or my experiences. The no's weren't daggers of defeat, but confirmation that there was a greater victory on the other side of my persistence.

By the end of February, I received an email that I'd been selected for an interview with my current employer. Ironically, I had applied for a different position with them back in December and got rejected. So this was definitely starting to feel like a God thing. I interviewed, got moved to the next round, but it took three more weeks before I would get the final in-person interview. I drove eight hours to Atlanta on a Friday and came back to North Carolina the next day with nothing more than a prayer on my lips — not that I would simply get the job, but that I only got it if it aligned with my purpose and His plan for me.

I did have one job offer waiting back home — Applebees. I was scheduled to start training as a server the following week, but they were patient as I had already told them I was in final rounds for another job. I had reached a place where I was thankful that I just had potential income.

If I didn't get my current job, I would've been at peace knowing that God knew what was best for me.

On March 13, I got the call saying that I not only got the job, but they were offering me way more than I expected to make, plus fully covered benefits. As someone who went without benefits on and off for over two years, I was scared to even sneeze in fear I'd have to pay hundreds of dollars to see a doctor. Now I would no longer have to stress about affording one.

I said I would never go back to a 9 to 5, but I'm beyond blessed to be employed at a company that not only aligns with my goals, but values work-life balance. I can now work on the writing I really want to do without stressing over my next paycheck, and when it's time for me to go, this time I will be prepared for the move.

I'm still in recovery mode — I have a lot of debt to clean up — but the experience showed me who I really was and molded me into who I needed to be. I've been broken and sifted, many negative thought patterns and mindsets were left behind, and what remains are the very characteristics necessary to move on to the next leg of my journey.

The experience showed me who I really was and molded me into who I needed to be.

As I've said, the riches of my testimony aren't in my paycheck, but in who I became when I didn't have one. There were many things that I took for granted, and when those things were taken from me, there were many nights I cried out because I no longer had it. Now I find gratitude in the grittiness of it all.

The dream doesn't have to die; but sometimes it needs to be re-strategized. It's attainable, but it's also a test of how bad you really want it. What are you willing to give up now in order to have better later? What habits and mindsets do you need to break before you can truly walk in your purpose? For me, it was a lot of shedding of things that I never recognized as being a privilege to have, and accepting that at the end of the day, I made a choice so there was no room for excuses or complaints.

This walk isn't for the faint of heart, but in the end, it will leave your heart full.

Keep your head up, your mind right, your lips positive, and your pride absent.

*Originally published on Write On Kiah

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissons@xonecole.com.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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