To me, courage is forgetting how to be scared because you get too busy being brave chasing your dreams.

Courage is being the first in my family to go to college so my kids don’t have to be, because being the first is hard. Being the first meant that there were days I didn’t eat and too many nights I didn’t know where I was going to sleep. Being the first meant that I pulled all-nighters all year long because the streets were never safe to sleep on. Being the first meant that I had just one pair of shoes because text books take up a lot of space. Being the first meant that everybody else was homesick, when I never had a home. It meant making showers out of sinks and light out of darker days. It meant making beds out of cardboard and hope out of hopeless places. It meant making libraries out of bus seats and A’s out of dust. It meant being dirty, filthy, hungry, and starving; but having nobody to ask for help because I did not even want to be seen.

One day, my psychology professor was walking by a bus stop I stayed at, and I was so embarrassed. I just wanted to melt in to the bench. However, she quickly turned her head away and yelled that she didn’t have any money, even though I never asked. I never wanted a hand out, just a hand up. She asked me to be a tutor for the class the next day. She had no idea that I was the homeless person she didn’t want to see. Being the first meant nobody ever saw the full me.

Courage is climbing this mountain and reaching higher. I graduated from Mills College in May 2016. In September, I was still homeless when I started applying to graduate school. I got in. I am starting my Masters in Social Welfare at UC Berkeley this August. I want to be able to reach my goals so that I can be doing important advocacy work for children still stuck in systems. I am going to show them that if a system-involved kid like me can grow up, get a degree from Berkeley, and change the systems that almost broke them, that anything is possible. I am going to ensure that my everyday practice empowers every child to dream beyond the statistics that say they “can’t.” I know from my own life that sometimes it takes just one person saying you “can” to give you the courage to try. I will work tirelessly to be that person for kids that most people either can’t or choose not to see.

Courage isn’t always some major act of bravery, sometimes it’s the courage to exist as you are in a world that never had space for you.  When you don’t fit in this world, it’s because you were born to make a better one. I was born to be courageous for the future of the kids who remind me of me.