By Rio Hunter Black
Growing up by my mother’s side taught me that the only way to move through life was to advocate for myself. Knowing my own needs and how to fight for them was a lesson she drilled in at every turn. She taught me by example, and I learned through close observation and practice.
When I was only 10 years old I watched my mom completely change her life. I watched as she left her marriage and her job as a freelance writer and demanded a better future for herself as a social worker/single-mother. She volunteered at a rape crisis hotline in Boston for a year before she had the experience to attend one of the top social work programs in the country. She spent summers away from home to study under leading health care providers and researchers at Smith. In the winters she would intern at the local hospital by day and work for a high intensity group home by night. It was the biggest change I had ever seen an adult make for themselves.
I remember helping her cook dinner in the evenings between her interning job and her night shifts. We would make pasta and salad or heat up leftovers from a large dinner she had made in preparation for the week. At the time I felt like I was so busy with clubs and homework that finding time to cook dinner was a chore. She was also a student though, and she was reading 500 pages of feminist theory a week on top of her work. I couldn’t imagine when she had time to sleep.
I couldn’t imagine choosing to never have time to sleep. But she did. And she continued to make that choice every day for three years until she graduated with her Masters in Social Work. When I asked her how she managed to work so hard and keep fighting, she told me that she was fighting for our future. At 38 she was choosing to take action for her life, and for mine and my sister’s, no matter how hard the fight would be.
Her work paid off. Over the past two years, she has refinanced the house, gotten engaged to someone she loves and trusts, and gotten promoted as many times as she needed to be set up for a long future as a happy therapist. She seems happy in a way she wasn’t five years ago. And it's because she decided to advocate for herself and her future. I don’t think I will ever really know how she managed to do as much as she did, but I understand why she worked so hard. I will never stop fighting a better future, because I know she never did.
Everyone will reach points in their lives where they must choose to fight for a better future for themselves. Right now, we as voters in the United States have to fight for our future. As students we have to fight for our education. And as people we have to fight for human and civil rights. I take the lesson my mother taught me and participate in activist groups like Sunrise to fight for climate change and advocate for my needs as a teen. I hope that other kids will think about their futures too, and decide to take action and become activists for their lives.