The Powerful Story of a RMFY Alumna…In Her Own Words
My family and I come from a country called Eritrea, located in East Africa. My parents moved to the United States in the early ’90s during the civil war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. During that time, all the men in the country were required to battle in the war. My grandfather asked my father to run away, because he did not want to lose his only son to war. My father became a refugee and moved the United States and brought my mother shortly after. They birthed me and my three younger siblings.
My parents did not have all the answers, they left their family behind with aspirations of providing their future children with opportunities they did not have. My parents came this country with minimum resources. Growing up in my household, I witnessed my parents work extremely hard. Through tenacity and dedication, they were able to provide their children with the necessities and move our family from a low-income neighborhood to owning our first home. Two values they have instilled in me are: hard work and education. My father always used to tell me, “Suehierra, don’t ever look to be rich, you can have money and loose it tomorrow… but no one can ever take what you have in your mind”.
My parents taught me many things but like many children who are raised by immigrant parents, I lived in two different worlds (one in my home and in the community). Two different lifestyles with different values, norms, practices and belief systems. I lived in constant dissonance when forging an identity and sense of belonging to a country that reflected an unfamiliar culture while also honoring the values and traditions of my parents. This caused me to deal with anxiety and depression, as well as developing low self-esteem. Being the oldest sibling, my parents often turned to me when navigating through this new society; they frequently asked me to take on responsibilities beyond my years, including sibling care, advocacy and working to help with the household finances. This codependency undermined their parental authority but stimulated precocious development.
My parents’ own struggle with adapting to a new country, made them relatively unavailable psychologically. I experienced childhood trauma and struggled with my identity. Growing up, I was one of the two Muslim students in my elementary school, the other student was my brother. And after 9/11, I did not consciously identify as a Muslim African American woman. I grew up questioning who I would be and finding my place in the world.
As I entered high school, my peers and I all had our own personal struggles. Many of peers were minorities, who came from low income neighborhoods. We all aspired to become something. We dreamed BIG and had great potential, but potential is nothing without guidance and support. I always dreamed about going to college, but my parents had little insight on how I could achieve this goal, yet alone how we could afford it. My parents did not know how to apply for college, how to choose which college would be perfect for me, or how to apply for financial aid and scholarships. This experience was similar among many of my peers. It was with the support of RMFY that not only was I accepted into one college but thirteen. RMFY helped me with turning my dream to a plan, which then become my reality. I not only earned financial assistance, but I earned enough scholarships that would cover tuition without any student loans. In 2012, I graduated from high school and became a first generational college student.
Not only did RMFY help me accomplish my dream, they helped me find my purpose and place in the world! I knew that I wanted to help other children, just like they did for me. I dedicated my studies to social work earning my bachelors in 2016. I have been able to support and work with foster children in both the private and public sectors. My first job was as a support counselor in an independent living program that worked with young adults who had aged out of the foster care system. I assisted them with developing critical skills to help them flourish in society. Within a year, I was promoted to the program manager, where I supported and coached case managers in improving their skills so they can, too, make an impact on the young adults we served. I served as a support counselor in a group home. I also worked with children who were at risk of being removed from their home and supported parents with developing skills to better support their child. Lastly, I’ve worked with the Virginia Department of Social Services to improve child welfare in the state so that children in care, their foster and adoptive parents and the service workers who work with these populations, can be better supported. Most recently, I earned my Masters in Social Work Policy and Administration from one of the top schools in the nation for my profession, Virginia Commonwealth University. I beat all the odds and the statistics that show children from rough backgrounds would not become successful.
Right Moves for Youth has played an important role in my life and accomplishments. They demonstrated how positive relationships can alter someone’s future. They made me feel safe and supported. I do not remember teachers from the homework assignments and tests they assigned. I remember how they made me feel. I remember the adults who asked about my day, who checked in on me, who smiled and greeted me as I entered the hallways. It was adults like Officer Hughes, the school resource officer, who talked to me about how things were going on at home and how my day was going. Individuals like the Sabrina and Tayuanee who listened, supported and believed in me. Individuals like Ms. Shannon, my program specialist at the time, who would wake up early in the morning to provide transportation for children who did not have it.
I always knew that I had a safe place with a trusted adult that I could rely on, whenever I needed it. Excelling in the classroom is only one component of becoming productive member of society, it is those students who have close, positive and supportive relationships that attain higher levels of achievement. I am an example of why Right Moves for Youth’s work is important, why Right Moves for Youth matters. As an immigrant child, as a first generation college student, as someone who participated in Right Moves for Youth, as someone who succeeded, I get to now advocate and be the person whom I needed when I was a child. Life, indeed, comes full circle.
I am extremely excited to announce that I am back with RMFY as the newest hire! As a program specialist with Right Moves for Youth, I now get to find my Suehiers in the world.