Let me take you back to my first day at Year Up on March 8, 2016, the 1st day of Orientation Week. This week was one of the most uncomfortable, eye-opening, and fun weeks I have ever experienced. It taught me so much about the community that would be around me on this journey and even more about myself. I was one of the first to arrive in my learning community and as I sat in an empty circle, seats slowly filled up around me―I thought to myself,

“I can’t take any more losses, I hope I made the right decision by coming here.”

Two seconds later a young lady with short black hair with a purple streak in it wearing a purple shirt and purple glasses sat right next to me and said, “You look cool, I’ll sit next to you, my name is Alex, ” something about that small gesture made me feel like I made the right decision.

On that day and the days to come, my community at Year Up would start to learn more about me. I was born and raised in Oakland, California. My mom had me when she was still in high school and my dad had already dropped out. From a very young age, it already felt like the odds were against me! Growing up, I never saw my parents as “The teen mom” and “The high school dropout,” I saw them as my parents―willing to do whatever it took to make sure my brother and I were cared after. To this day, my mom is still one of the hardest working people I know. I have NEVER seen this woman without a job, even if it meant taking my brother and I to work with her, she did what she had to do and never made any excuses. All I ever wanted to do was make my mom proud. And for the most part, I think I did make her proud until I became pregnant at just 14 years old. One of the hardest things in life was to tell my mom that her dancing machine, basketball-loving daughter was repeating the cycle. I was ashamed and disappointed in myself. People around me judged me, put me down and counted me out, “She’s dumb, she’ll never graduate from high school, her life is over.” I felt like a failure and I felt like I had let my mom down. My mom gave me the tools to be better than her and there I was, getting ready to be a “teen mom”. At just 15 years old on June 15, 2006, I gave birth to my amazing son Deontae Cincere!


Graduation with both my HS Diploma and my son in hand!

Life came at me quick and I was now responsible for another whole life. My outlook on life started to change; I was no longer just living for me, I was living for him. I refused to let him down. During that summer, I attended parenting classes, started applying for jobs, enrolled back into school, and found a daycare right across the street from my high school. It was not easy and honestly, I could not have done it without my family and son’s father and his family. On June 12, 2009, just 3 days before my son’s 3rd birthday, I graduated, walking across the stage with my biggest blessing in my arms!

After graduation, I was still stuck in this mindset of proving people wrong, so I went to college even though I did not have a clear goal and direction for going. I quickly began to take out student loan after student loan until I decided I needed to change my mindset. I could no longer do things in reaction to others, I had to take care of my son and let him be my only reason to want more for our lives. I left college and began working full time to make ends meet. I had a friend join Year Up and she tried to convince me to apply but I ended up not applying because it felt safer to stay in my job at the time. Then 2015 came and this was not my year: rent went up, my car became unreliable, and I began living check to check. I was not happy, I was sad, and angry and depressed and then I got in trouble with the law. What was I doing? Is this what my life has come to? I needed to make a change and needed to make the change quickly. I decided to apply to Year Up in September after watching my friend go through the program and come out with a successful job at Salesforce.

I got the call that I was accepted! I was beyond happy; I literally sat in my car and cried. That was the best news I had received in a long time. I came into Year Up saying, “This was my time”. With every public speaking deliverable and technical assignment, I doubted myself, but ended up getting A after A and gaining confidence along the way.

It is now three months after our Year Up graduation day and I am finally reflecting on this experience. My learning community is one of the most diverse groups of individuals I have ever had the opportunity to get to know, they all represent different backgrounds and cultures but have one thing in common, the drive to be successful. Everyone has their own definition of success, and yet regardless of their definition, I urge each person in our community to promise to push, fight and never give up on their way to success.

I am leaving Year Up a proud mother of a 10-year-old boy with all the tools to lead a successful career. I am more confident, I have a new family of friends who support me, and I have a ton of resources to help me succeed. Early in our admission process, someone asked me, “What motivates you?” My answer was my son and my family. A week after graduation, I landed a job at Wix as a Tech Support Specialist and I know that there is so much greatness ahead!

Read on Medium’s website here.