All I want is a chance to succeed. I don't want a handout. I don't want the government to pay my bills. I don't want to live off anyone else. I just want a chance to succeed, a hand up, a real chance to rise above the challenges I was born into.
My last name is Rockefeller. But I am not descended of the robber baron who "earned" his millions by exploiting everyday Americans. Everyday I hear jokes about my last name -- even former Governor David Patterson made that crack about Rockefellers and money when I met him in 2011.
I was born in Lincoln, Nebraska to an evangelical christian family plagued by poverty and domestic violence, where my father ruled with an iron fist and those around us pretended not to notice. I have seen and experience things beyond your imagination, horrors you do not want to know about and I don't want to talk about.
But these do not define me.
In 1985 I lost most of my sight when a distracted driver hit me just a few blocks from school, ten minutes after school ended for the day. My complaints about the agony in my head (which has never stopped since that fateful day) were ignored, as were the obvious signs of my sight loss. My grades fell and no one cared.
But I persevered and learned to read with double and triple vision, unaided and unnoticed until my university days when the reading load exceeded my determination and my professor intervened to secure talking books for me.
I have walked through my life with a staggering number of deficits. But I am bright and determined to persevere.
I am unusally determined, never giving up no matter how tough it gets.
I am not alone. There are millions of Americans just like me who come from difficult circumstances but are determined to succeed anyway.
We are what America is all about.
But there is a problem in this country: that is no longer enough.
Every person who breaks through the plexiglass house of limitations (in today's world "glass ceiling" does not seem to fit anymore) does so because someone (individually or as a group), cuts a window through that tough barrier -- just enough for that talent, intelligence, and drive to finally be enough to break free.
Not one successful, let alone "self-made" person has ever acheived without one or more people giving that hand up.
That is all I really want: a hand up.
My plans for my future success are great. Once I have the means to pay off all my debts, I plan to -- every penny of student loan, of credit card debt, and so forth. Before I lost my job in 2009, I paid off all my debts from 2000-2004 when I was working for less than a living wage -- and set aside that critical 10% of my earnings without which I would be in much worse shape.
My debts right now are of course because unemployment doesn't cover all your bills, especially living in a high rent place like Brooklyn. I put things on credit cards that normally I would have paid cash for -- expecting the recession to persist for a while.
But once these basics are covered, my plans are to give back, to use whatever money I earn to make life better for everyone else.
My hopes and dreams start with buying a nice house in New Jersey where I will cover my exterior walls with flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetable plants -- living walls that will help bees, humingbirds, and, just as important, provide food for my own table and for as many people in food insecurity as I can.
I want a nice yard that is not a lawn, but a producing garden. With help, I think I can feed lots of people that way. And if I have money to spare, I want to buy some land where I will plant food forests and community gardens. Because affordable fresh food is a right -- not a priviledge for the rich.
If I have money left over from doing all of this, I want to invest in affordable housing. Living in public housing right now, I know how inferior these buildings are constructed. No one deserves to live like this. No one should be afraid of being shot for walking down the street. No one should have their sleep disrupted by their neighbors. And no one should die in a storm because their homes were never built with proper precautions against fire, tornado, earthquake, and/or hurricane. We have the ability to build for these -- but our society somehow treats the poor as "surplus population" who, in too many minds, are not worth investing in. Our lives are too expendable.
I want to change that! No living creature is expendable.
I have so many plans for making life better for everyone. I know where I come from and know that paying it forward and helping others is the only way to live. I cannot understand greed. I cannot understand anyone who feels that an income of $500,000 per year, let alone more than that, is not enough. Economic hoarding is beyond my imagination. You gain so much more when you make life fair for everyone.
Ebenezer Scrooge learned that lesson. Why it is beyond those who have the means to help and choose not to is inconceivable to me.
If you are reading this, you probably also need that hand up. You need someone to help you get to a safer home, to a job that pays a living wage. You need quality food. You, like me, are food insecure. You just want the basics like me!
Fortunately, I believe that we don't have to have billions or even millions of dollars in the bank to help one another. Small acts of kindness by many creates a revolution of kindness, empathy, and compassion. Five seconds of your time on social media can transform many lives.
But perhaps you will -- or you will tell someone that you read a blog post by a very determined low vision lady who refuses to give up. You might take five seconds in your day to share this blog post or otherwise tell people I do good work.
My name is Laurel A. Rockefeller. I refuse to give in. Someday, I will make it. When I do, I promise to invest in real, tangible ways to bring food to the hungry and shelter to the poor. This is my vow. Let's make it so!
Laurel A. Rockefeller, author
The Peers of Beinan series
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