by Sheila A. McMillan, MBA
As you become more clear about who you really are, you’ll be better able to decide what is best for you-the first time around.-Oprah Winfrey
Have you ever asked yourself…”Why am I here”? Have you ever taken the chance to speak aloud about what you secretly feel about yourself?
While growing up in West Philadelphia, my childhood and young teenage life was not a difficult one. However, as an only child it often seemed like a lonely one. My parents, who migrated from South Carolina, believed that a person could have anything they wanted in life, as long as they worked for it. Therefore, it was very important to them that I receive a formal education in order to be something “Big”. For me to be something “Big” meant that they had to run a tight household in order for their “Big” plans to come into fruition. My parents were overprotective and strict. This meant I didn’t go off the porch or block until I was well into my teenage years.
I learned at an early age that children were to be seen not heard; to behave in a manner that was acceptable and just “go along to get along.” This included only “speaking when spoken to.” Throughout my formal education, before attending college, my teachers stated on my report card, in the comments section, words that were often repeated, “Sheila is a good worker but she talks entirely too much.” My parents lauded me for excellent grades but I was always berated or punished for “talking too much.” That type of chastisement not only went on at home but also at family gatherings. Close family and church members knew about how Sheila could not keep her mouth shut. Over time, my spirit as well as my voice was diminished. So, I became silent and took on the identity that was handed to me. Once I got to high school, I was labeled as a stuck up person because I didn’t talk much about the “happening things”, nor could I hang out with any of the girls from school except one. Nevertheless, I was at the top of my class in my academic work. During this time of “parental molding” I developed (and still do have) a passion of reading and learning new things, except Statistics 😊.
When I graduated from high school my name was included on the National Honor Society rolls, I also was pregnant with my first child by the school’s basketball star. My mother told me that my life was over and I could forget about going to Peirce Jr. College where I had been accepted. I acknowledged what she said with sadness and regret as I too believed I wouldn’t amount to anything.
Over the years, major life changes happened. I ended up getting married at the very young age of 19 years old and had three more children. However, the academia DRUMS were calling me. I enrolled in Community College of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, I would not be able to finish until my children were attending a military school and entering college as well. During those turbulent years I encountered domestic abuse in several forms (physical, emotional, financial, and especially verbal) from my husband, job changes and finally…divorce. During those times I still hadn’t fully found the strong voice that was silenced long ago. However, once I chose to put one foot in front of the other and keep walking, with God’s grace and mercy, my VOICE began to come back and tell me to “keep moving…No Matter What!”
My voice, filled with determination, courage and purpose came back as I chose to become an adult learner attending Peirce College where I found safety in the classrooms to talk and be heard. I was heard by my academic advisor when she announced at the ceremony how the student they were about to award said “All she wanted to do is walk in her purpose and succeed.” She then awarded me with the Peirce College Walker Center for Academic Excellence Full Time Student of the Year Award!
Has your voice ever been diminished? Where did you find your voice, again? What was the turning point in your life that made you rediscover your voice?